A man has been in a coma for the last 12 years, and doctors have found out that he has been conscious the entire time, completely aware of who he is and where he is. They asked him questions about himself, and by analyzing his brain they could see his "yes" or "no" answers. He got 5/6 autobiographical answers correct, and he even told them that he's not in pain. So comatose patients could all be conscious out there, just waiting inside of their heads for weeks and months and years. The hospital actually tested other comatose patients and they found that 43% of them were conscious.
Knowing this, that being in a coma isn't just going to sleep and waking up instantly whenever it is you wake up (if at all), would you tell them to end your life or would you rather stay trapped in your body for the entire time, hoping that someday the coma will end?
Scott Routley was involved in a car accident 12 years ago and has been in an apparent vegetative state ever since. Previous medical assessments suggested that he was not experiencing any kind of awareness, nor was he capable of spontaneous movements or communication.
But as the fMRI scans now show, doctors should not judge a book by its cover; assessments of what constitutes a "vegetative" state have now been thrown into question. And indeed, efforts are already underway to help neuroscientists measure the level of awareness in comatose patients.
The communication breakthrough was achieved by Adrian Owen and his colleagues from Western University's Brain and Mind Institute. Speaking to the BBC, Owen noted that, "Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is."
Looking ahead, Owen is hoping to see clinicians use brain scanning techniques in similar cases to garner more meaningful information from patients. "In future we could ask what we could do to improve their quality of life," he said. "It could be simple things like the entertainment we provide or the times of day they are washed and fed."