The New York Times reports, “Three severely brain-injured people thought to be in an irreversible ‘vegetative’ state showed signs of full consciousness when tested with a relatively inexpensive and commonly used method of measuring brain waves,” according to a study published in The Lancet.
In addition, the study’s findings “provide startling — and in some ways disturbing — new evidence confirming previous indications that a significant proportion of patients diagnosed as being vegetative may in fact be aware,” the Washington Post points out.
Just as important, “the widely available, portable technology used in the research offers what could be the first practical way for doctors to identify and finally communicate with perhaps thousands of patients who may be languishing unnecessarily in isolation. Doctors could, for example, find out whether patients are in pain.”
Detailing the study’s methodology, HealthDay reports, “An EEG, which measures brain activity, appears to be able to detect awareness in some patients thought to be in a permanent vegetative state.”
For the study, instead of functional magnetic resonance imaging, which is expensive and not always available, researchers used EEG to test “16 patients who had either traumatic brain injury or non-traumatic brain injury, and who had been diagnosed as being in a vegetative state,” along with 12 healthy controls, asking everyone “to imagine movements of their right hand and toes.”
Notably, investigators “found that three of the patients had appropriate responses on the EEG even though they appeared physically unresponsive.”
A bitter right-to-die row erupted in the United States in 2005 over the fate of Terri Schiavo, a 41-year-old woman who had been in a vegetative state since a heart attack in 1990.
Schiavo’s case went back and forth through the U.S. courts and even prompted then President George W. Bush to intervene as her husband fought for doctors to halt feeding and basically murder her.
Ah … if they had only waited.
Here are a couple of my other blogs on the topic:
- Vegetative patient “talks” using brain waves
- Brain scans of patients in vegetative state reveal some activity