The Minimally Conscious State: Is this the new civil rights battle of our times?

If you are of a certain age, you probably remember the landmark 1976 right-to-die case involving Karen Ann Quinlan.  Karen had been left in the vegetative state after a presumptive drug overdose, and expert testimony to the effect that her brain state was hopeless led the New Jersey Supreme Court to rule in favor of the removal of Quinlan’s ventilator.

Then, in 1984, a young Arkansan by the name of Terry Wallis survived a car wreck that seemed to leave him in a vegetative state.  Almost 20 years later, in 2003, Terry began to speak, albeit tentatively.  This development baffled many who thought recovery from a vegetative state was impossible. Some diagnosticians were not surprised, however; they surmise he had been in a minimally conscious state (MCS).  MCS can mimic a vegetative state; however, the commonalities between the two states is superficial, and they are actually profoundly different.  Whereas someone in a vegetative state is unconscious, someone experiencing MCS is conscious, although they often do not show that they are.

While medical professionals often did not recognize MCS, family members, in a way, did.  Have you heard about family members who insist that their loved one is “there”; i.e. that they have sensed awareness in their loved one?  This could be attributed to the loved one actually being in a minimally conscious, rather than a vegetative, state.

It is imperative to raise awareness that people who are in a minimally conscious state ARE capable of reemerging from that state.  Medical science is making advances in this area, but much remains to be done.  For an in-depth treatment of this topic, check out this essay:  https://aeon.co/essays/thousands-of-patients-diagnosed-as-vegetative-are-actually-aware?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=f3c11e932f-Daily_Newsletter_10_May_20165_10_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-f3c11e932f-68910097