Saturday, October 18, 2014

People in a vegetative state may be aware

By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The UK Independent published an article on a study by scientists at Cambridge University concerning tests on people considered to be in a vegetative state or a minimally conscious state.

The Independent is reporting that:
Severely brain-damaged patients in a persistent vegetative state may be capable of being consciously aware of the outside world, scientists said.
Scientists at Cambridge University have developed a test to determine whether people in a vegetative state can respond to their surroundings. Dr Srivas Chennu reported that:
“Our research could improve clinical assessment and help identify patients who might be covertly aware despite being uncommunicative,”
“... for patients diagnosed as vegetative and minimally conscious and their families, this is far more than just an academic question; it takes on a very real significance,”
The article in the Independent explained the research data:
The researchers analysed the brainwaves of 32 patients using 128 electrical sensors fixed to the scalp to measure electroencephalograph (EEG) activity. 13 members of the group were classed as being in a persistent vegetative state, with the rest being minimally conscious. 
The study, published in the online journal Plos Computational Biology, found that four of the 13 patients with persistent vegetative state had a “robust” network of brain activity that would allow conscious thoughts, which was confirmed when they were asked to imagine playing tennis when their brains were scanned using a magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) machine.
The article quoted Dr Chennu as saying:
“We measured brain activity at rest and didn’t ask the patients to do anything. It showed that some unconscious patients with persistent vegetative state had robust brain networks that should support conscious awareness,” 
“It was complimentary to the tennis test, which involves an expensive and elaborate MRI machine. The bigger picture is that our equipment will hopefully be used by the bedside and could provide the best possible information to patients and their families,”
This is important research for families of people who have acquired brain injuries. Many families report some ability to communicate with their loved one. Similar research is being done at Western University in London Ontario.

This is particularly important because many people who are considered to be in a persistent vegetative state are being denied basic care, including hydration and nutrition and neglected to death.

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