In remarkable research on-going at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, scientist Dr. Adrian Owen was able to demonstrate using an fMRI that a patient considered to be ‘vegetative’ was actually capable of answering questions. The research is a fascinating glimpse into the brain and shows that there is a lot more going on inside than is observable from outside.
In this particular research the individual was asked to imagine one set of activities for a yes answer and another set of activities for a no answer. Different parts of the brain ‘lit up’ depending on which activity the individual was imagining. Once the researchers established the accuracy of the answering mechanism by asking questions that they new the answer to they were able to ask relevant questions like “are you in pain?”
This research raises some interesting questions about care options and our duty of care for individuals in that state. Should individuals in a ‘persistent vegetative’ state receive cognitive stimulation? If they can answer yes and no questions through an fMRI – should they be able to make care decisions?
And for me it raises the larger questions: When we can’t engage in a discourse with an individual – do we give up too easily? What do you think?