Thursday, February 4, 2010

Consciousness in vegetative patients


He emerged from the car accident alive but alone, there and not there: a young man whose eyes opened yet whose brain seemed shut down. For five years he lay mute and immobile beneath a diagnosis — “vegetative state” — that all but ruled out the possibility of thought, much less recovery.

But in recent months at a clinic in Liège, Belgium, the patient, now 29, showed traces of brain activity in response to commands from doctors. Now, according to a new report, he has begun to communicate: in response to simple questions, like “Do you have any brothers?,” he showed distinct traces of activity on a brain imaging machine that represented either “yes” or “no.”[...]


  1. Leads to doubt when neurologists say a person will always be in a persistant vegetative state. ie brain dead.

    99.99% of the time it is true, if they diganose it.

    But of course the halachic issue is can we do transplants on that dx of brain death.

    Some rabbanim have ruled yes.Others still hold onto the traditional defintion of death as being the cessation of the heart from beating.

    A terrible dillema.We so desperatly need sources for organ transplantation to save lives in Israel.

    Between the halachic issues of defintion of death and the fact that organ donation is discouraged within in many circles in Israel, many people die who could have been saved.

  2. Terri Schiavo was judicially murdered.

  3. Nissim.

    We are only beginning to understand the brain. It's only a matter of time before 'vegetative states will be a thing of the past.

    A bit more time and most brain damage (though not all) will be reversible.

    Further down the road, brain disorders will be treated with genetic material that will correct the damage.

    Nissim- BSD in our lifetimes.

  4. We are only beginning to understand the brain. It's only a matter of time before 'vegetative states will be a thing of the past.

    Do you not see the inherent contradiction in that statement?

    I certainly pray for fully effective treatments for brain disorders in my lifetime, but it is hard to say what kind of brain damage will ever be reversible.

    As for Terri Schiavo: I don't know that I have ever davened for anything with as much kavanah as when I begged Hashem to never put me in the position of the judge who had to make his decision on her. Her case was a moral/ethical nightmare, and I am not impressed by those on either side who would demonize the other.

  5. Efrex-

    Why is understanding the mechanical functions of the brain any different than understanding the heart or other organs?

  6. To the poster who says "99.9% of the time they are right". IIRC, it more like 70-80% of the time. I just recently read a medical paper about the percentage of people in a "persistent vegetative state" who recover function enough to no longer be classified as such and was surprised it was such a large number. That's a large margin of error, esp. when you consider what is at stake.


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