Sunday, February 07, 2010
It's difficult for me to pick my 'favourite' news item this week to blog about. Two stand out, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the latest news from spokespeople of the cult of misery as my good friend Russell Blackford likes to call the Roman Catholic Church. The study in the NEJM was mistaken by large media organisations to further substantiate the claim that folks diagnosed to be in persistent vegetative state (PVS) or minimally conscious state (MCS) actually are not in such states, but rather that they're fully conscious persons trapped in a completely unresponsive body. Researchers in Belgium and France measured brain reactions in 54 such people in both countries and discovered to their surprise that some of them had the same brain regions light up that did light up in the healthy control group. This does indeed suggest that there's a possibility that in those folks a functional brain capable of understanding and responding to questions is kind of stuck in an unresponsive body. That is scientifically truly interesting and deserves further research. However, it's worth noting that despite the media hype (and hype by 'pro-life' activists) of the 54 PVS participants only a 5 responded in the manner I have just described, and 'in three of these patients, additional bedside testing revealed some sign of awareness, but in the other two patients, no voluntary behavior could be detected by means of clinical assessment.' The researchers sadly failed to ask how these 'responsive' people felt about being stuck in an unresponsive body, whether they wanted to continue living, questions that have been for a long time central in ethical and policy debates about the proper treatment of people in such states.
Stan Terman, MD, PhD of Caring Advocates commented (sensibly): "