Human Exceptionalism

Minimally Conscious Feel Pain

A study has found that people with serious cognitive impairments who are conscious–people who are routinely dehydrated to death in most states–feel pain. From the story:

Severely brain-damaged patients in a “minimally conscious state” may still feel pain and require painkilling treatment, according to European researchers.

A minimally conscious state (MCS) is different than a persistent vegetative state (PVS), which involves wakefulness without awareness of self or surroundings. MCS patients do show some evidence of awareness of self and their surroundings. However, caregivers have difficulty assessing MCS patients’ levels of conscious pain based on their behavior, according to background information in the study by Dr. Steven Laureys, of the Coma Science Group at the University of Liege, Belgium, and colleagues.

They compared brain activity following electrical stimulation of the median nerve in five MCS patients (ages 18 to 74), 15 PVS patients (ages 18 to 75), and 15 healthy people (ages 19 to 64). The researchers focused on brain areas responsible for pain sensation (the cortical pain matrix), including the thalamus, the primary somatosensory cortex, and the insular, frontoparietal and anterior cingulate cortices. The MCS patients showed the same level of activity in these areas as healthy people and significantly more activity than PVS patients. The MCS patients also showed better “connectivity” between different brain regions responsible for pain than PVS patients.

So will dehydration proponents now conclude that the lives of these patients should be sustained? Of course not! They will say that the ability to feel pain means more than ever that they should be put out of their misery. Or, as often happens, the misery of their families.

The Latest