Human Exceptionalism

The Unconscious May be Able to Hear

I have always believed that Terri Schiavo could hear. This was based on conversations I had with people who were with her, and on the videos posted on the Internet. One in particular struck me: Terri is asked to open her eyes. There is a pause. Her eyes remain shut. Then, they flutter. Then, she opens her eyes. Then, she opens them so wide it wrinkes her forehead. This was no mere reflex.

After the autopsy, those who supported her dehydration pointed to the finding that she was probably blind. Therefore, they said, she could not have reacted to her mother’s love.

But she could have if she could hear.

This study demonstrates that unconscious people appear to hear, or at least, their brains react to speech almost like a conscious person’s. Whether they can interpret these sounds is not known.

As far as I am concerned, this shouldn’t matter. A human life has intrinsic value simply because it is. But some don’t believe that. Hence, this study should provide definite food for thought in the ongoing struggle over the intrinsic value of all human life and in establishing proper ethical approaches to caring for those with profound cognitive disabilities.

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