Thousands of brain-damaged people who are treated as if they are almost completely unaware may in fact hear and register what is going on around them but be unable to respond, a new brain-imaging study suggests.
The findings, if repeated in follow-up experiments, could have sweeping implications for how to care best for these patients. Some experts said the study, which appeared yesterday in the journal Neurology, could also have consequences for legal cases in which parties dispute the mental state of an unresponsive patient.
The research showed that the brain-imaging technology, magnetic resonance imaging, can be a powerful tool to help doctors and family members determine whether a person has lost all awareness or is still somewhat mentally engaged, experts said.
"This study gave me goose bumps, because it shows this possibility of this profound isolation, that these people are there, that they've been there all along, even though we've been treating them as if they're not," said Dr. Joseph Fins, chief of the medical ethics division of New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Fins was not involved in the study but collaborates with its authors on other project.
Question to all you pro-life folks: if the scan came up dark, (update: that is no conciousness and no hope of conciousness, and reflex actions don't count) would you agree that it'd be OK to pull the plug?
Question to all pro-choice folks: if the scan came up lit-up (update: at least rudimentary indications of conciousness that is clearly not simply a reflex), you wouldn't pull the plug, would you?