Saturday, September 09, 2006

UK Vegetative Patient "Communicates"

On Thursday, September 7, 2006, the British Broadcasting Company reported new published findings of a research study in the United Kingdom and Belgium concluding that "A patient in a vegetative state can communicate just through using her thoughts".

The BBC reported:

[A] UK/Belgium team studied a 23-year-old woman who had suffered a severe brain injury in a road accident, which left her apparently unable to communicate. By scanning her brain, they discovered she could understand spoken commands and even imagine playing tennis. They said their findings, published in Science, were "startling", but cautioned this could be a one-off case.

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When the scientists compared her brain activity to that of healthy patients, who had been asked to carry out the same task, they discovered the patterns were "indistinguishable".

Dr. Owen said: "These are startling results.

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The finding that vegetative patients may experience awareness of their surroundings will fuel the ethical and legal arguments that surround some vegetative state cases.

Last year, a debate raged in America over whether 40-year-old persistent vegetative state patient Terri Schiavo should be allowed to live or die. Eventually, following a court decision, her feeding tube was removed on 18 March and she died 13 days later.

Kate Bainbridge, who was initially diagnosed as being in a vegetative state, but who has since recovered and can communicate through a keyboard, said the scanning work was very important. She took part in some scanning experiments from the same team.

She said: "I can remember when I couldn't respond and it was so scary."

She added that doctors should never assume that a patient is not aware.

The entire article is posted online here.