A British neuroscientist has used fMRI to establish communication with patients diagnosed as being in persistent vegetative states; he calls them “a population of totally locked-in patients.”

The usual suspects are naysaying this, saying that there’s no proof that any of these patients are really conscious. The doctor’s response is, “True, but I don’t have any proof that you’re conscious either.”

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  • I also liked the bit about “a minimally conscious state — a more recently defined category characterized by intermittent hints of conscious activity.”

    It’s a sufficient answer to claims that amount to, “We understand everything about these patients, and their proper care could never be otherwise than our current practices.”

  • Jmac

    Very interesting if true, but from what I’ve heard there are some issues with the fMRI. For instance, finding mental activity in a dead salmon: http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com/2009/09/fmri-gets-slap-in-face-with-dead-fish.html

    I don’t nearly have the biological or medical training to pass judgement on this study, but I do have reservations.

    • Dan

      Yes, but the report was that the doctor got reproducible responses to specific questions. The dead-fish study just showed that “mental activity” by fMRI can be spurious. The study with “brain-dead” patients went beyond that.

      • Jmac

        Interesting. Thanks for the response.

  • beccolina

    Does anyone else find it frightening that the doctors can’t seem to agree on a definition of “conscious”?

    • Ted Seeber

      I think I’d be more frightened if they had a definition- because such a definition would be the first stage towards scientific confirmation of a soul.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    The usual suspects are naysaying this, saying that there’s no proof that any of these patients are really conscious.

    The usual suspects courageously left out the end of their sentence, “So we’d better starve them off before we find out for sure.”

    • Jmac

      Right? “We don’t really know if X is conscious, if Y is alive yet, or if Z is technically dead” is equivalent to ” I really want to starve X, abort Y, and/or harvest Z’s organs.” Otherwise, you’d think it would be somewhat obvious that you make damn sure of the life status of the human under your care.

  • Advances like this are more important when you consider that there are efforts throughout the country to legalize Doctor-Prescribed Suicide

    That link will take you to a page where you can learn about and fight against this effort in Massachusetts.