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March 13, 2007

Experts have Limited Knowledge

Topics: Commentary, Testimonials

Last night the Discovery Channel aired a program reminding me of Terry Wallis, the individual who woke-up after 19 years in a vegetative state. An article in Technology Review explains:

In 2003, 19 years after a car accident left him in a minimally conscious state, 39-year-old Terry Wallis spontaneously started to speak. Now, using specialized MRI scans, researchers have examined Wallis's brain and found remarkable changes in his white matter. The findings could one day help scientists understand what happens in the brains of minimally conscious patients and how new interventions might rouse them back to full awareness.
During the program, doctors and scientists admitted they simply don't understand why and how some individuals wake up while others don't. The article linked to above reports:
Scientists know very little about what happens in the brain during such long stretches of impaired consciousness. Both human and animal research in recent years has shown that the adult brain has some capacity for self-repair. Stroke patients, for example, can sometimes recover speech or motor function as neural pathways in the brain reorganize to compensate for injured areas. And some patients do regain consciousness after months or even years, as in Wallis's remarkable case. But doctors don't yet know how to predict who will get better, and few treatments exist to boost whatever innate reorganization takes place. New brain imaging techniques, such as those used to generate the scans of Wallis's brain, could help change that.
It would seem prudent, given the limited understanding of the experts, to discount the opinion of euthanasia rights activists who testify as medical sources who advocate the termination of those suffering from brain injuries.

In Terri's case, for example, the primary evaluator was Dr. Ronald Cranford, a board-certified neurologist who testified he was "105 percent sure" of his assessment. Cranford expressed similar certainty about a patient he examined in 1980 who later regained both consciousness and the ability to communicate.

Although it fell on deaf ears, it is well known that Cranford was on the board of the Euthanasia Society of America and had ties to the Hemlock Society. He was also a well-known and repeat expert witness for euthanasia in "Right to Die" cases.

Posted by tim at March 13, 2007 8:14 PM

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