It appears there may be a way to improve the condition of patients in a persistent unconscious and minimally conscious states. From the New Scientist story:
People who have been in a minimally conscious state for weeks or years have been temporarily roused using mild electrical stimulation. Soon after it was applied to their brains, 15 people with severe brain damage showed signs of consciousness, including moving their hands or following instructions using their eyes. Two people were even able to answer questions for 2 hours before drifting back into their previous uncommunicative state.
“I don’t want to give people false hope – these people weren’t getting up and walking around – but it shows there is potential for the brain to recover functionality, even several years after damage,” says Steven Laureys at the University of Liège in Belgium, who led the research.
This could mean better diagnosis:
The worst scenario, he says, is that the person has some aspects of awareness but they have been misdiagnosed as persistently vegetative. Brain stimulation could now be added to the tests used to make that diagnosis. It’s an important distinction – someone in a vegetative state is thought to be unable to feel pain.
Someone with minimal consciousness can feel pain and possibly emotions, too. “The key thing is getting the diagnosis right, that’s the game-changer,” says Fins.
Gee, treating these disabled people as people rather than as “dead” or human “nonpersons” for organ harvesting. What a concept.