Speaking to the Silent
Science can accomplish mind bending things, literally. I read this article on Scott Routley; a Canadian vegetative patient. Through a miracle of modern medicine doctors have been able to ask him questions and they read his mind to get the answer. How cool is that!?
None of his physical assessments showed any signs of awareness or ability to communicate. For the first time a completely uncommunicative patient has been able to answer questions relevant to his care. For people with extreme disabilities this is fantastic news!
How the science works: doc’s get answers by placing patients in fMRI machines and asking questions while surveying brain activity. They generate a kind of road map by asking questions that are known to spark activity in specific areas of the brain. If activity follows the patterns of a healthy brain then people are able to communicate through a kind of technology based telepathy. Generally brain damaged persons have lower electronic signals but as long as the pattern is the same, doctors can literally ‘follow’ a person’s thoughts.
Although people with severe intellectual and physical disabilities weren’t a part of the study; at first blush it seems reasonable to me that it’s a logical way to communicate with any person trapped behind their physical limitations. This is an important issue. Medical rights are some of the most hotly contested in the advocacy world. Nothing is more personal than one’s body and health!
This method is limited to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. However it is still a huge step forward for patients that otherwise are completely unable to influence their own care. For many people who lack the ability to communicate in conventional ways, valuable ways to use this technology are obvious. Little things like establishing what T.V. a person prefers, what pj’s are most comfortable, etc. can make a world of difference to quality of life and care. It offers a precious sliver of personal choice into an otherwise cloistered life.
This technology can definitively answer the poignant question that Nicola Schaefer posed in the title of her book Does She Know She’s There? It’s a new way to bridge the chasm between dependence and independence. It’s another vehicle that empowers people to make their own choices. Three cheers for Science!
Now if we could only get Harper to stop gutting federal funding to the sciences. Ah, politics! Always offering plenty of fodder for the advocate axe to grind 😉
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