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Friday, July 24, 2009

Neuroscience: Is the patient "vegetative" or "minimally conscious"?

Celeste Biever raises an important topic in "Doctors missing consciousness in vegetative patients" (New Scientist, July 21, 2009): About 40% of people diagnosed as in a "vegetative" state may be minimally conscious. Whereas a person in a persistent vegetative state may have no real awareness,
A minimally conscious state (MCS) is a sort of twilight zone, only recently recognised, in which people may feel some physical pain, experience some emotion, and communicate to some extent. However, because consciousness is intermittent and incomplete in MCS, it can be sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between the two.
Recent research focuses on efforts to disentangle the two conditions.

Minimally conscious people may benefit from therapies that provide no value for people in a persistent vegetative state. Another concern is that decisions to withhold food to bring about death (legal in many jurisdictions now) could be inflicted on people who are just conscious enough to be aware of what is happening.

See also: The inner lives of people classed as vegetative

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