Brain Waves

Vegetative Patients Can Communicate

Speaking to victims in vegetative states may not be completely fruitless, now that experts have discovered that patients who don’t show signs of awareness can actually both comprehend and communicate thoughts. Not only can those in persistent vegetative states (PVS) understand what others are saying, but they can also offer simple responses to basic biographical questions. Dr. Adrian Owen, who carried out the groundbreaking research, and his team concluded it’s possible to talk to patients by tapping into their brain activity using a hi-tech functional MRI to measure their “yes” and “no” answers to questions. Doctors predict about one in five PVS patients can communicate. The discovery will likely raise questions about when doctors should take patients off life support machines and could cause a stir in the assisted suicide debate. “Obviously this fits into the issue of when patients should be allowed to die,” Dr. Owen said. The director of the Care Not Killing Alliance says, however, that the breakthrough is unlikely to alter guidelines regarding assisted suicide, since patients in that state don't have the mental capacity to make such vital decisions.