Studies like these are fascinating, showing that there appears to be conscious thought in patients in vegetative states. But while they’re really provocative, they’re also frustrating. There have been a few of these now, and they seem to always involve only one, maybe two patients, whose injuries were caused by blunt trauma to the head, and who’ve been in the state for a short (~6mo) time.
The problem with this is that it gives people false hope. People who have loved ones in minimally conscious or persistent vegetative states, who’ve been in those states for years, who’re clinging to the hope of a medical miracle. Sure, the articles include a throwaway line, standard these days when talking about PVS, “it wouldn’t have helped Schiavo” – but I don’t think people hear that. I think people see that there might be hope, and grab on, not understanding why their case may be different.
I want to see these studies done on patients who’ve been in these states for years. Who got there through oxygen deprivation. I want to see the range addressed, so that when the articles come out, there’s a case in there to represent the field of possibility, not just the tip where the promise is.
These studies are important, hands down. They’re showing us new methods of treatment, giving new ideas, and bringing up new and very complicated things to think about. But they need to be broader, and think outside the immediate.