Feb. 4th, 2010
Eng 122 Prof. Kern
A New york Times article written by Benedict Carey titled "Trace of thought is found in 'vegetative' patient", discusses the use of a technique involving Magnetic Resonance Imaging or commonly, MRI, to find traces of brain activity in patients in states of Persistent Unconsciousness. You may know it as being brain dead. The article is about a 29 year old patient in a clinic in Belgium, who after five years of silence and immobility, demonstrated slight activity in the brain when prompted with yes or no questions from doctors. The implications are clear, "Experts said Wednesday that the finding could alter the way some severe head injuries were diagnosed — and could raise troubling ethical questions about whether to consult severely disabled patients on their care." Currently, some of the accepted ways to determine a patients consciousness at bedside include, but are not limited to, "checking whether patients’ eyes can track objects, and carefully looking for any signs — eye blinks, finger twitches — in response to questions or commands." According to Carey, experts say the new MRI tests are not ready to be widely used and still present some technical problems, but there seems to be promise. Carey sites an interesting quote from neurologist, Dr. Allen Ropper. "Physicians and society are not ready for ‘I have brain activation, therefore I am,’ ” Dr. Ropper wrote. “That would seriously put Descartes before the horse.”
While these new studies and data are very encouraging, especially for those dealing with the condition directly or indirectly, the idea of someone who can't "do" for themselves, but can think for themselves can be scary one. I pose a question to you, suppose doctors were to ask a patient if he or she wants to live or die? Suppose their wishes contradict those of family members and loved ones? In the article, Carey brings up the perhaps familiar case of Terry Schiavo. In 2005, she was taken off of life support after a long controversy over a persons rights once deemed 'vegetative'. One can assume that more and more controversies like this are to appear, once technology like the MRI technique gets 'off the ground' so to speak. People who can respond yes or no to questions about treatment can create problems for the families, loved ones, and the doctors themselves who have a job to do. It can be argued (and is) that if a person can think for themselves, they should be allowed to make the decisions on their own life, be it to prolong, or to end it.
Although I do believe a person should have the right to make their own decisions, the feelings of loved ones who are active in that persons life should be considered as well. There may be a tremendous amount of pain and stress being placed on them, and that can only make a situation more difficult. Watching a loved one go through that must be very emotionally taxing, and doctors should be put under pressure to work with families and patients in a way that will make the recovery process, or termination, as comfortable a situation as possible.