Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Conscious Coma

Read in the newspapers today about Rom Houben. A man who was thought to be in a coma for 23 years, since 1983. Yet he has actually been conscious all the time. He was in a near-fatal car crash. When he came around, he could hear his doctors spoke, but he could not communicate with them. He could not open his eyes, could not talk, could not move, and did not repond to stimulation. He screamed, but no sound came out. After a while, his doctors gave up trying.

Yet when doctors did a PET scan on him several years ago, his brain was found to be functioning almost normally. Now he can communicate via a computer with a special keyboard activated with hid right hand, which is capable of minimal movement.

His case is similar to that of Jean-Dominique Bauby. Whose experience has been written into a book and subsequent movie, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly.

What exactly is consciousness? How do the brain’s functions relate to consciousness? How do we determine whether a person is conscious? It seems there is a continuum from completely brain-dead at one extreme to full consciousness at the other. At what point is a person conscious? When is a person not a person anymore?

Can consciousness be independent of the brain? When the brain is dead, can consciousness survive?


Anonymous said...

I saw the same piece of news, and couldn't get it out of my head the whole evening, and the day after that. As you can tell, it had quite an impact on me. I simply cannot imagine what it would be like to be trapped in my body for 23 years! What frustration he must have gone through. I just cannot fathom. It made me realize that it's all God's grace that I can breathe, walk, talk and do all the things that I do. I've done nothing to deserve what I have, but I am eternally grateful to God for giving everything I have to me!
in NJ

StephenC said...

Yeah. Indeed to be alive and conscious is a continuing miracle.

Very happy to connect with you again after all these years.

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