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February 08, 2005

Good news for Terri Schiavo

The New York Times reports of a study by researchers done at the Functional MRI Research Center at Columbia University Medical Center by a team of neuroscientists in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., The researchers used imaging technology to compare the brain activity of nine people, two determined to be minimally conscious and seven healthy men and women.

 In a measure of overall brain activity, the two groups were vastly different: the two minimally conscious men showed less than half the activity of the others.

But the researchers also recorded an audiotape for each of the nine subjects in which a relative or loved one reminisced, telling familiar stories and recalling shared experiences. In each of the brain-damaged patients, the sound of the voice prompted a pattern of brain activity similar to that of the healthy participants.

"We assumed we would get some minimal response in these patients, but nothing like this," said Dr. Nicholas Schiff, an assistant professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan and the study's lead author. The two men showed near-normal patterns in the language-processing areas of their brains, Dr. Schiff said, suggesting that some neural networks "could be perfectly preserved under some conditions."

The political implications weren't missed.

Three million to six million Americans live with the consequences of serious brain injuries, neurologists said. An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 of them are in what is called a minimally conscious state: they are bedridden, cannot communicate and are unable to feed or care for themselves, but they typically breathe on their own.

They may occasionally react to instructions to blink their eyes or even reach for a glass, although such responses are unpredictable. By observing behavior in a bedside examination, neurologists can determine whether a person is minimally conscious or in a "persistent vegetative state" - without awareness, and almost certain not to recover...

Dr. James Bernat, [a professor of neurology at Dartmouth], said findings from studies like these would be relevant to cases like that of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman with brain damage who has been kept alive for years against her husband's wishes. In that case, which drew the attention of Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature, relatives of Ms. Schiavo disagreed about her condition, and a brain-imaging test - once it has been standardized - could help determine whether brain damage has extinguished awareness.

The studies seems fairly certain.

Although the number of patients studied was very small, the specificity and intricacy of the patterns made it all but impossible that the results were a fluke, said Dr. Joy Hirsch, director of the Functional MRI Research Center at Columbia University Medical Center and the study's senior author.

But then again the various levels of cognizance of developing babies have never swayed the pro-death activists from maintaining their current hold over US law that allows for the murder of any unborn child, for any reason, at any time. Those that worship death rarely listen to reason.

Posted by Jack Lewis at February 8, 2005 08:23 AM

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