A Vegetative State of Mind
By Ali Harper, Small Portion of a Life's Journey
Just a quick quip in to this controversial topic, a "vegetative state". Remember, if you've been following all along, that one published definition of hydranencephaly places children in a non-responsive, vegetative state. There have also been numerous cases in the court systems, even some spotlighted in the media (such as Terri Schiavo's case) arguing the level of consciousness of these patients who are believed to be in this supposed "vegetative state" and trapped in a life not worth living. I have even argued this point myself with people in my life, who have inadvertently read these "facts" about hydranencephaly, placing my son in this "vegetative state" which simply doesn't exist in my eyes.... or in the eyes of anyone who has ever taken the time to know him.
This notion came to mind once again while watching a rerun of the show House late last night. The doctors were openly discussing a personal matter, and when one questioned the other about the timing, "oh don't worry, they won't be repeating this to anyone," was mentioned over the patient deemed in a coma, or said "vegetative state".
How, when the brain has proven time and time again to be such a mystery, can professionals in the field of cognition be so sure that a person is indeed "brain dead"? Look back a few posts at my own son's MRI images, and imagine what prognosis a professional would give based solely on those scans. Most, myself included, without a formal education on the brain, would not correlate those images with a living being. It seems medically impossible...
Here is a short article showing the importance of gaining a better understanding of this "vegetative state":
Vegetative Patient Answers Yes and No Questions With His Brain
By Kyle VanHemert
Raising questions about the definition of a vegetative state as well as what to do with people in them, a new study observed the brain of an unconscious patient responding to yes and no questions just like normal.
Of the 54 test subjects in the New England Journal of Medicine study, one man who had been diagnosed as being in a vegetative state some five years earlier accurately answered yes or no questions. The answers came by way of a brain scan conducted by an MRI machine.
[Image]As shown in the image above, answering "yes" and "no" registers activity in different parts of the brain. When the patient was asked if his father's name was Thomas, the scan showed his brain indicating "no." When asked if his father's name was Alexander, the scan showed the correct answer of "yes."
The study brings up some sticky issues involving the ethics of treating vegetative and seemingly vegetative patients. But it also provides scientists with rare insight into the elusive nature of human consciousness itself.