Human Exceptionalism

What We Don’t Know About the Injured Brain Can Kill Us

This story demonstrates, yet again, that people who are diagnosed as profoundly cognitively impaired may merely be unable to communicate. A man described as being in a minimally conscious state has regained the ability to talk and eat after his brain was stimulated with electrodes. From the story:

A man who spent six years unable to talk, eat or walk as a result of severe brain damage has made a remarkable recovery thanks to a revolutionary implant of electrodes deep in his brain.

The 38-year-old had been written off by one doctor as a vegetable but he is now able to talk, laugh, drink, chew and carry out simple tasks such as brushing his teeth.

The man had been left in a “minimally conscious state” after being beaten up and robbed. He was unable to speak audibly and could only communicate by a nod, or tiny eye or finger movements.

He was also unable to chew or swallow, and had to be fed through a tube. His eyes mostly remained shut…

The implant was carried out in February 2005 and the brain continues to be stimulated by the electrodes. Now the patient can manage the first 16 words of the US Pledge of Allegiance, without being helped, and the team expects to see further improvement, notably after surgery to improve his ability to move. The team hopes to carry out the operation on a dozen patients in a preliminary trial.

A few thoughts: First, let us all give thanks for this man’s improvement. What a wonderful joy for the family.

Second, no one should ever be “written off” as a “vegetable.” The V-word is a terrible epithet that should be considered a pejorative akin to the N-word since it is explicitly designed to denigrate and dehumanize the person to whom it is applied. No human being is a carrot or a turnip and all deserve proper care for as long as they live.

Third, many would have totally supported the patient’s family having his feeding tube removed. How many people are dead today who might have gone on to marked improvement had the doctors waited to “pull the tube?”

Fourth, some may be thinking, if only they had tried this with Terri Schiavo. Actually, they did, circa 1990. It didn’t work.

Finally, let’s hear from the family of this fortunate fellow:

The patient’s mother gave a message today to “all the mothers out there” with sons and daughters trapped in the same state: “Don’t give up–there is hope.”

Indeed.

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