Not a Human Rutabaga

This is one of the most disturbing reports I’ve read in a long, long time.

Being a card-carrying member of the “elder” class (read: fossil) all my life I’ve heard references to severely brain-traumatized patients as “human vegetables,” basicially unaware of their surroundings, unable to function, to respond, to hear or speak. In short, possessing all the cognitive functions of a rutabaga.

Now, the Brits in a continuing series of brilliant medical studies have shown us that in many cases, this simply isn’t so. Which leads to many disturbing questions, not the least of which: when is it permissible to pull, or not to pull, the plug on these patients.

The link: Scientists have been able to reach into the mind of a brain-damaged man and communicate with his thoughts.

The story reported that with one patient – a Belgian man injured in a traffic accident seven years ago – they asked a series of questions.

He was able to communicate “yes” and “no” using just his thoughts.

The team told him to use “motor” imagery like a tennis match to indicate “yes” and “spatial” imagery like thinking about roaming the streets for a “no”.

The patient responded accurately to five out of six autobiographical questions posed by the scientists.

For example, he confirmed that his father’s name was Alexander.

Here’s the “Catch 22” phrase: “It does raise many ethical issues – for example – it is lawful to allow patients in a permanent vegetative state to die by withdrawing all treatment, but if a patient showed they could respond it would not be, even if they made it clear that was what they wanted.”

Good question!


Not a Human Rutabaga © Graybyrd 2015