Vegetative patients with active minds

A new study has found that many comatose patients dismissed as “vegetables” have active minds:

In a study certain to rekindle debate over life-sustaining care for those with grievous brain injuries, researchers report that five patients thought to be in a persistent vegetative state showed brain activity indicating awareness, intent and, in at least one case, a wish to communicate.

Of 54 unresponsive patients whose brains were scanned at medical centers in England and Belgium, those five appeared able, when prompted by researchers, to imagine themselves playing tennis, and four of them demonstrated the ability to imagine themselves walking through the rooms of their homes.

One of those patients — a 22-year-old man who had been unresponsive for five years after an automobile crash — went on to respond to a series of simple questions with brain activity that clearly indicated yes or no answers, researchers said.

Their work is the first to give physicians and families the prospect of a biological test to determine whether a patient who shows no response to his or her surroundings is conscious and aware of them.

via Brains of vegetative patients show life – latimes.com.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jonathan

    “Yes, isn’t that interesting,” they will say, “but, then it is all about the *quality* of life that really counts.” Ask Terry Schiavo’s brother about that.

  • Jonathan

    “Yes, isn’t that interesting,” they will say, “but, then it is all about the *quality* of life that really counts.” Ask Terry Schiavo’s brother about that.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    What Jonathan says. If they’re not working and paying taxes to the welfare state…..

    …but praise God that the case of the euthanists is becoming more and more untenable every day!

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    What Jonathan says. If they’re not working and paying taxes to the welfare state…..

    …but praise God that the case of the euthanists is becoming more and more untenable every day!

  • Orianna Laun

    Pastor told this story in a recent sermon:
    He was in the room of an elderly lady who was near death–a coma, if I remember correctly. Pastor was reading the Bible to her when a young nurse intern came in to straighten up. She informed Pastor that his visit was futile, but he persisted. He said to the woman that he was going to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and she sat up and mouthed the words with him. Afterwards she lay back down in her comatose state. The young lady who was still in the room boggled and asked what had just happened. Pastor responded that it was the Lord at work.
    Hmm. . .

  • Orianna Laun

    Pastor told this story in a recent sermon:
    He was in the room of an elderly lady who was near death–a coma, if I remember correctly. Pastor was reading the Bible to her when a young nurse intern came in to straighten up. She informed Pastor that his visit was futile, but he persisted. He said to the woman that he was going to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and she sat up and mouthed the words with him. Afterwards she lay back down in her comatose state. The young lady who was still in the room boggled and asked what had just happened. Pastor responded that it was the Lord at work.
    Hmm. . .

  • Joe

    This is interesting. But it will mean nothing to the Peter Singers of the world.

  • Joe

    This is interesting. But it will mean nothing to the Peter Singers of the world.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Orianna – I’ve had very similar experiences as your pastor. One a very tragic one which I have shared here before where the son, who had power of attorney over his mother, would not let his mother’s pastor have further contact with her (right after I accidentally woke her up, in his presence, praying the Lord’s prayer).

    On a brighter note, the power of the Word of God and human memory is a wonder. I’ve especially been appreciating the opportunity to serve a couple dear people in my congregation struggling with Alzheimers. This has also stretched my understanding and appreciation for memory and for leaning upon the written Word of God as a great spiritual strength in our day to day and often very difficult lives. Let us always rest in the great gift of hearing the Word of the Lord.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Orianna – I’ve had very similar experiences as your pastor. One a very tragic one which I have shared here before where the son, who had power of attorney over his mother, would not let his mother’s pastor have further contact with her (right after I accidentally woke her up, in his presence, praying the Lord’s prayer).

    On a brighter note, the power of the Word of God and human memory is a wonder. I’ve especially been appreciating the opportunity to serve a couple dear people in my congregation struggling with Alzheimers. This has also stretched my understanding and appreciation for memory and for leaning upon the written Word of God as a great spiritual strength in our day to day and often very difficult lives. Let us always rest in the great gift of hearing the Word of the Lord.

  • Michelle

    This hits particularly close to home for me because my husband has been profoundly brain damaged for almost a year, and I would LOVE to know how much he is aware of and understands. He isn’t considered “vegetative” (how I hate that term), but he is so limited that his neuorologist can’t tell me how much awareness he has.

  • Michelle

    This hits particularly close to home for me because my husband has been profoundly brain damaged for almost a year, and I would LOVE to know how much he is aware of and understands. He isn’t considered “vegetative” (how I hate that term), but he is so limited that his neuorologist can’t tell me how much awareness he has.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    I believe a similar study was done a few years back on union leaders.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    I believe a similar study was done a few years back on union leaders.

  • J

    @7
    Pretty lousy joke after Michelle’s comment.

  • J

    @7
    Pretty lousy joke after Michelle’s comment.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Michele,
    In my pastoral practice, I have made it my practice to never listen to the physicians or nurses if they claim that the patient doesn’t understand what is being said. (They sometimes think it gives people comfort if they pretend to know what’s going on). I always give the patient the benefit of the doubt. Assume he can hear and receive audible encouragment, the Word, and music (perhaps also touch) just fine. How do we know he can’t – there is a whole universe we don’t know about the human mind. And may you rejoice and live the the wonderful calling (vocation) which that entails as you likely know better than anyone else, save Christ, what your husbands ears and other sensations like best. Christ be with you and give you peace.
    in Him,

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Michele,
    In my pastoral practice, I have made it my practice to never listen to the physicians or nurses if they claim that the patient doesn’t understand what is being said. (They sometimes think it gives people comfort if they pretend to know what’s going on). I always give the patient the benefit of the doubt. Assume he can hear and receive audible encouragment, the Word, and music (perhaps also touch) just fine. How do we know he can’t – there is a whole universe we don’t know about the human mind. And may you rejoice and live the the wonderful calling (vocation) which that entails as you likely know better than anyone else, save Christ, what your husbands ears and other sensations like best. Christ be with you and give you peace.
    in Him,

  • Betty

    Back in the 1950′s my husband and I visited a nursing home on Monday evenings (through our church). It was in an old mansion and some of the patients had private rooms… some in large “dormitory-type rooms.” As we started to go in a private room, the “nurse” advised that is wouldn’t mean anything to her. She wouldn’t even know we were there.” Paul said, “Well, we will just go in and read a bit of scripture to her then.” He opened his bible and it just “happened” to open to John 14. Paul read the first few verses and when he was finished, she squeezed his hand. That was all. The next Monday when we went back we were informed that the lady had died a day or so after we were there. I think she had gone to her “mansion” that the Lord had prepared for her.

  • Betty

    Back in the 1950′s my husband and I visited a nursing home on Monday evenings (through our church). It was in an old mansion and some of the patients had private rooms… some in large “dormitory-type rooms.” As we started to go in a private room, the “nurse” advised that is wouldn’t mean anything to her. She wouldn’t even know we were there.” Paul said, “Well, we will just go in and read a bit of scripture to her then.” He opened his bible and it just “happened” to open to John 14. Paul read the first few verses and when he was finished, she squeezed his hand. That was all. The next Monday when we went back we were informed that the lady had died a day or so after we were there. I think she had gone to her “mansion” that the Lord had prepared for her.

  • Michelle

    Bryan,
    Thank you for your kind words. Fortunately, in this case even the doctors concede that he has some awareness and understanding; we just don’t know how much. And, yes, I knew it before they did.

  • Michelle

    Bryan,
    Thank you for your kind words. Fortunately, in this case even the doctors concede that he has some awareness and understanding; we just don’t know how much. And, yes, I knew it before they did.


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