William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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MIRACLE – AT 9:20 A.M. ET:  We don't normally do medical stories here, but this one is so remarkable that we must inform you.  In addition, it touches on the "nature of life" discussion that is ongoing, and will undoubtedly influence that discussion in the future.  Please read. 

A Canadian man who was believed to have been in a vegetative state for more than a decade, has been able to tell scientists that he is not in any pain.

It's the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give answers clinically relevant to their care.

Scott Routley, 39, was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in an fMRI machine.

His doctor says the discovery means medical textbooks will need rewriting.

Vegetative patients emerge from a coma into a condition where they have periods awake, with their eyes open, but have no perception of themselves or the outside world.

Mr Routley suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident 12 years ago.

None of his physical assessments since then have shown any sign of awareness, or ability to communicate.

But the British neuroscientist Prof Adrian Owen - who led the team at the Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario - said Mr Routley was clearly not vegetative.

"Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is."

Prof Owen said it was a groundbreaking moment.

"Asking a patient something important to them has been our aim for many years. In future we could ask what we could do to improve their quality of life. It could be simple things like the entertainment we provide or the times of day they are washed and fed."

COMMENT:  Do you recall the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, wherein a brain-damaged woman was put to death at her husband's request despite the pleadings of her parents, who were willing to take care of her?  "Sophisticates" laughed when members of Congress, and clergy, tried to intervene on the woman's behalf.  They were told to listen to the doctors and shut up. 

I am not comparing the two cases.  I have no credentials with which to do so.  But, as the researcher in the story says, this may be a groundbreaking moment in the discussion over the value of certain lives.  I'd love readers to inform me, by the way, if they see this story on American television or in American newspapers.  Will this medical advance be publicized, or will certain politically correct forces in American newsrooms suppress it because it's inconvenient? 

November 13, 2012