Playing tennis in her head?

by Liza on Sep. 20th, 2006

Neurologists used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to study the brain function of a woman who'd been in a coma for five months. To their surprise, when they asked her to respond to commands or imagine things, her brain "lit up" in the same way that the brains of healthy subjects did. The scientists caution that this is likely not the situation for many vegetative patients.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

When I read this, I (like everyone else, I'm sure) immediately thought of Terri Schaivo's emotional and divisive "right to die" case last year.

But the neuroscientists whose work was published in Science and other experts anticipated the question. According to CNN,

"Experts noted the woman had relatively little brain damage, and said traumatic brain injury often healed better than injury caused by stroke or heart attack such as Schaivo suffered. Schaivo had also been in her state for far longer than the British woman, allowing for severe deterioration of her brain."

I know that I wouldn't want to spend years in a deep, persistent vegetative state. But I also don't want my family to pull the plug on me prematurely! The article continues:

"Dr. Ross Zafonte, a brain rehabilitation expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said the study showed a unique way of assessing brain function using scans."

I wondered whether or not doctors should perform brain scans of this type before ending life support to patients in comas. But is evidence of any kind of mental life enough, in the absence of motor abilities or communication abilities? And are the results of the fMRI really evidence of a mental life, or simply reactions to stimuli?

What do you think? What questions does this finding raise for you?

posted on Wed, 09/20/2006 - 2:25pm

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