A summary of the recent news reports on this interesting development from Alex Schadenberg:
New research is proving that it is possible to communicate with people who are deemed to be in a Persistent Vegetative State.
Adrian Owen, a British researcher who is leading the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in London Ontario has been a leading researcher related to people who are diagnosed as being in a Persistent Vegetative State.
Recent media reports based on a BBC television special report focused on the story of Scott Routley who experienced a severe brain injury in a car accident and who has not spoken for 12 years. Routley has been diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.
Owen uses an MRI scanner to record the reaction of the brain to specific questions. A Toronto Star article described the process in this manner:
“We put him in an MRI scanner and while he is in the scanner we ask him to imagine doing certain things in his mind . . . for example, we ask him to imagine using his arms. Scott is unable to use his arms in reality but it turns out he is perfectly able to imagine moving his arms. And we can pick that up on the scanner and we can tell he’s doing what we ask him to do”
Owen is then able to interpret the brain wave responses. The article in the Toronto Star stated:
Owen said command-following is a routine method of telling if a person is conscious and aware, “and with Scott we can tell he is activating his brain when we ask him to do so.”
“And when we say ‘now stop doing that imagining’ and then we see the little blob in the brain disappear. But when we say start it again now the blob lights up again,” he said.
After asking Scott a series of questions, they then analyzed his brain wave response to the questions and they determined the following:
“It became very clear that Scott had some awareness and he could respond in the scanner to the task we asked him to do while he was in there,” British neuroscientist professor Adrian Owen, who leads the research team, told the Toronto Star.
“What we have done here for the very first time is ask a patient a question that is actually relevant to their clinical care.
“Asking somebody whether they are in pain in tremendously important, because of course if the answer had been yes, we could do something,” he said.
Owen said there is no doubt that being able to communicate in this way with a person thought to be a vegetative state is a first and it is hoped will lead to routine communications with at least one in five people in this uncommunicative state.
The Globe and Mail article reported that Routley’s neurologist, Bryan Young stated that the results of the MRI scans totally overturn all of Routley's previous clinical assessments. The article stated:
...the results effectively overturn all the behavioural assessments in his patient’s file.
“I was impressed and amazed that he was able to show these cognitive responses. He had the clinical picture of a typical vegetative patient and showed no spontaneous movements that looked meaningful,” he said, adding that medical textbooks will need to be updated to include the brain scanning techniques.
The MRI brain scan technique should allow many people who are deemed to be PVS to receive effective pain and symptom management as well as it will allow many of these people to be re-assessed and be given effective treatment for their condition.
For many years research studies have proven that up to 40% of people who are deemed to be PVS are in fact not PVS. The new diagnostic techniques are now able to clearly identify a false diagnosis of PVS, such as what had occurred in the case of Hassan Rasouli, but also we are now able to communicate with people who are supposedly PVS.
The Rasouli case, that will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada next month, concerns the question of whether physicians have the right to unilaterally withdraw medical treatment without the consent of the patient or substitute decision maker. Rasouli has now been deemed to be not in a Persistent Vegetative State.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has intervener standing in the Rasouli case at the Supreme Court of Canada.
What is most impressive about the new research that is being done by Dr. Adrian Owen at Western University in London Ontario is that this research is unlocking new information about the ability of the person to communicate. By asking a person, who is deemed to be PVS, questions and analyzing the brain response, they can establish new insights about the thoughts and experience of a person who is considered unconscious.
The fact is that the determination of PVS is now used to withdraw all medical treatment from patients, and in the UK, since the Bland court decision, people who are deemed to be PVS can have their fluids and food withdrawn causing them to die by dehydration.
The concept of dehydrating a person, who is deemed to be PVS, to death is barbaric.