Brain test detects awareness in "Vegetative" Patient

A recent story in the New York Times indicated that doctors at two hospitals in Europe detected signs of awareness in three severely brain-injured people who supposedly were in a “vegetative state.” A vegetative state generally means that someone has no awareness of their surroundings. The doctors used brain wave patters on an EEG test to reach their conclusions.

This study could have beneficial impacts not only for the way we treat patients with brain injuries but would also help with the legal remedies available to brain-injured patients.

As our firm knows from the many brain-injury cases we have handled, there is often a debate about whether a brain-injured client is patient is entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, and that often boils down to an argument about whether the patient is, or is not, in a “vegetative” state and exactly what does that mean. As we have learned in many of our cases, even doctors attending to patients cannot always agree on whether these brain-injured patients have the ability to experience pain, to hear sounds, to recognize voices, etc.

This study will certainly help the families of brain-injured people who usually are very vocal and insistent that their child, spouse or other family member does indeed recognize their voice and have the ability to experience pain and respond to their environment.

This new study may change how doctors treat brain-injured patients. Debates about the degree of a patient’s brain damage often lead to heart-wrenching decisions about whether life support should be withdrawn from a patient. Now, care givers may give a closer look before making final decisions about patients.

No doubt further research in this area will be forthcoming, but the results of this study are certainly encouraging for advocates of brain-injured patients, and it certainly lends support to the argument that people who may appear to be in a vegetative state in fact have some level of awareness.