Friday, March 11, 2005

medical tool shows minimally conscious patients "aware"

as the deadline of march 18 approaches, the date given by circuit court judge george greer as the day on which artificial nutrition and hydration may be removed from terri schiavo, it may be interesting to note the recent findings published last month in the journal neurology from the american academy of neurology.

the journal presents a study which shows that by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists were able to discern the alertness of patients in a minimally conscious state (MCS). by the way, i think "minimally conscious state" is a better term to describe patients in this condition rather than "persistent vegetative state" which the present pope himself branded as undignified.

anyway, according to this recent study by the medical scientific team from the Functional MRI Research Center at Columbia University Medical School, "active cortical networks that serve language functions suggest that some MCS patients may retain widely distributed cortical systems with potential for cognitive and sensory function despite their inability to follow simple instructions or communicate reliably." in other words, patients are aware. an abstract of the report can be seen here.

dr. joy hirsch, director of the research center that produced the report said that: “The most consequential thing about this is that we have opened a door, we have found an objective voice for these patients, which tells us they have some cognitive ability in a way they cannot tell us themselves. The patients are more human than we imagined in the past, and it is unconscionable not to aggressively pursue research efforts to evaluate them and develop therapeutic techniques.”

with respect to dr. hirsch, i hasten to point out that the patients were never less human at any point in their condition. otherwise, kudos to her and her team for this amazing finding. patients in a minimally conscious state have indeed found an objective voice to tell us they are aware thanks to this new medical tool.

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