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Biotech Medicine

"Vegetative State" Patients Can Communicate 347

Posted by samzenpus
from the hello-in-there dept.
Kittenman writes "The BBC is carrying a story about researchers in the UK and Belgium who can detect the thinking processes within a patient previously thought to be in a vegetative state. The researchers ask the patient verbally to think in certain ways to indicate a 'yes', in other ways to indicate a 'no' — and have successfully communicated with 4 out of 23 patients previously thought to be in a coma."
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"Vegetative State" Patients Can Communicate

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:12PM (#31023264)

    Isn't this like that House episode with the completely paralysed patient? At first he could only blink, but then that ability disappeared. He kept having visions where House and himself would appear on the beach and stuff. He was a black man as I recall. Anyway, they hooked him up to a brain-reading device which moved a cursor on a screen to indicate Yes or No (top and bottom halves of the screen).

  • fMRI is not perfect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bitslinger_42 (598584) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:32PM (#31023516)

    If you haven't check out this study [wired.com] publicized in Wired, where they detected human emotion activity in the brain of a salmon. A dead salmon.

    Just because the fMRI shows some colors, that doesn't necessarily mean that there's really cognition going on. It could just be false detections from imperfect scanning, or it could be scientists seeing patterns in data that don't really exist, or it could be the result of our imperfect understanding of how the brain works, or a whole slew of other things.

    This is made worse by things like the Houben case [sciencebasedmedicine.org], which used Facilitated Communication to "prove" that Houben had an intact consciousness. FC hasn't passed any rigorous scientific study (i.e. blind tests to prevent the facilitator's motivations/desires from modifying the results), but stories like Houben cause those with loved ones with sever brain damage in PVS to start clamoring that there may still be hope. James Randi has written about FC [randi.org], and the Houben case in particular.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:35PM (#31023552)
    The book was about a WWI soldier who lost all four limbs, blind, deaf, and mute, yet still awake. The medical people thought his twitching was just instinct. Then someone realizes his head banging is Morse code. The story is from the patient's perspective. It resurfaces as an ant-war book periodically.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:07PM (#31023912) Homepage

    Lots of horrible things happened. Insides of coffins from the earlier centuries were found to have scratch marks from the people inside waking up. Many declared dead were not dead but simply very sick. etc....

    Honestly, How would you like to be incapacitated but aware and thrown onto a pyre... Yay! my last moments are insane amounts of agony as I am burned to death.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:38PM (#31024360)

    Unfortunately for you, (and possibly Mrs Schaivo,) the cerebral cortex can be almost completely missing in humans, and yet they still can have "Conscious" daily activities.

    http://www.psywww.com/intropsych/ch02_human_nervous_system/cerebral_cortex.html

    (Last paragraph, has citations)

    There is still much about the brain that we do not understand. Most of it, in fact.

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:17PM (#31024882)

    Save them from what?

    Save them from the end, death.

    I was just thinking about this the other day. If I'm still mentally capable but unable to communicate or move, I think I still want to live.

    I like to think and contemplate, which if I was still capable of doing so, I'd like to continue that rather than die. It'd be great if I could 'think' and then tell people, but I'd rather think and not tell people that to just be gone.

    Its possible a solution could come in the future, and either way I have time to work on ascension. ;)

    You're really look at it from the perspective of people surrounding the person on life support. Making it easier on everyone else, under the guise of being for the PVS person. This is clear from your lack of sympathy for those that may have been wrongly diagnosed. I understand being selfish, its natural, which is why I'd rather be kept alive. I'm selfish and want every opportunity I can possibly get to resolve the issue some way other than my death, even if its hard on my family.

  • Re:Great! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:57PM (#31025350) Homepage Journal

    And what would they probably say? "Kill me...."

    That would be tremendously useful information.

  • by Rary (566291) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @03:53PM (#31025916)

    So you remember everything about your life, especially after having brain trauma? That's pretty fucking impressive.

    I'm not saying that it definitely is one way or the other. I'm just looking at probabilities.

    They would have had to choose very simple, easy to answer questions, partly because they were questioning a brain-damaged individual, but also partly because they had to choose questions that they also knew the answers to. So, the questions would likely be things like "Is your name Bob?", and "Are you male?" and "Were you born in London?". While it is entirely possible that brain trauma could cause a person to forget what city they were born in, it is also possible for a coin toss to result in 5 out of 6 correctly answered true/false questions. Therefore, the evidence, at least as it's presented in the article, is not exactly convincing.

  • Re:Euthanasia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101.gmail@com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:18PM (#31026284) Homepage Journal

    If there's nothing but oblivion, then you might well have never existed. Oblivion isn't some old folk's home where you can reflect on your life. Your thoughts, memories, experiences: *poof* gone. Whatever contributions you've made to the world will be forgotten in short-order, and history has shown everyone will be forgotten COMPLETELY in time.

    All that is exactly correct. There is no point to my existence, any more than there was a point to some guy that lived 15,000 years ago who lived and died in Africa. Everything about him is *poof* gone, as you say.

    But that's from the point of view of the objective universe. From the subjective point of view of my illusionary consciousness, it's better to hang around and exist, than wink out of existence for eternity.

    And besides, it's entirely possible that the whole external universe is simply being manufactured by my own consciousness, and everything will die when I go. So you better hope I continue on, just in case. :)

  • by Omestes (471991) <omestes AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @04:51PM (#31026768) Homepage Journal

    You're really look at it from the perspective of people surrounding the person on life support. Making it easier on everyone else, under the guise of being for the PVS person. This is clear from your lack of sympathy for those that may have been wrongly diagnosed. I understand being selfish, its natural, which is why I'd rather be kept alive. I'm selfish and want every opportunity I can possibly get to resolve the issue some way other than my death, even if its hard on my family.

    Putting myself in the shoes of a person in a PVS, I would prefer death, both for my own good, and for that of my family. I could turn your sentiment around and say that I am disturbed by your complete disregard (and lack of empathy) for your family in such a case. To me that also smells like selfishness.

    Yes, having some quality time to just sit (lay) and think sounds very nice, until your realize that this quality time will stretch onwards for years and years. Years and years with absolutely stimulus, no interaction with your loved ones, completely under the control of others. You can't even say "enough" when you finally realize just how isolated you actually are, and the huge psychological and financial burden your inflicting on your family.

    Remember, you can't eat or drink. And just because your being fed nutrients via IV, your still hungry, your still thirsty. Think of the bed sores, the catheters, the itches you can't scratch, etc...

    Also think of the real psychology of humans, while we all want peace and quiet, there is a limit to that. Without meaningful interactions we slowly go insane. People actually need to interact with people. Without this we drift further and further into psychosis and depression. This can happen in as little as a couple months. Now picture this going on for years and years.

    Meanwhile your family is going broke, and suffering from psychological anguish. They can never move on, since your inert body is a constant reminder of their loss. Yes, loss, its not like your really there, are you? Unless your family gets the same amount of comfort from your fMRI pictures as they do from your actual presence (if this is the case it doesn't reflect to well on your social skills).

    I reiterate, I feel more sympathy for the families and those who can't flee from this living hell, than I do for those who were shown mercy and put out of their misery.

  • Re:Euthanasia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101.gmail@com> on Friday February 05, 2010 @09:13AM (#31033616) Homepage Journal

    There is nothing on the other side. You simply cease to exist, and it's as if you had never existed. All your consciousness is gone. [...] Assuming that is true is as irrational as assuming the opposite.

    Untrue. There is plenty of evidence for a mechanistic brain (i.e., cognitive malfunctions from brain damage. Read the great books by Oliver Sacks on odd neurological problems), and absolutely zero evidence for a "soul" or any sort of afterlife. Like everyone, I wish there was some sort of way to "go on", but it's like wishing for superpowers. It's nice to dream, but reality is harsh.

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