Patients left in a “vegetative” state after suffering serious brain injury may still be able to understand and communicate according to groundbreaking new research. “Experts using brain scans have discovered for the first time that the victims, who show no outward signs of awareness, can not only comprehend what people are saying to them but also answer simple questions. They were able to give yes or no responses to simple biographical questions.
The unlocking of this ‘inner voice’ has astounded doctors and has dramatic implications for thousands of life and death decisions over patients trapped in what is known as a persistent vegetative state (PVS). It means around one in five PVS patients may be able to communicate. It will raise questions about when doctors should switch off life support machines. It is likely to add to the debate on assisted suicide as the patient could potentially decide and communicate if they wish to carry on living. It comes just weeks after Kay Gilderdale was acquitted of assisting the suicide of her daughter Lynn who the jury accepted had lived a ‘twilight life’ for more than 17 years. Up to a thousand PVS patients in Britain are kept alive by doctors in the hope they may one day regain consciousness.”