Creepy brain tests conducted on Ariel Sharon, who has been in a vegetative state since 2006, show "significant brain activity," UCLA said this week.
One bioethicist, however, says that the strange readings from functional MRI scanning conducted by UCLA and Israeli scientists do not suggest, as some in Israel hope, that the beloved one-time prime minister will come back to consciousness.
So is he conscious but unable to express himself -- trapped in his own body?
Bioethicist Art Caplan argues probably not, but maybe. He writes this for NBC News:
But is he really aware of what he sees or are well-worn neural pathways firing up when familiar stimuli are present without anyone home to appreciate them? No one really knows for certain, but it seems fair to say that a very damaged brain is not "thinking" or aware or self-conscious in a manner similar to healthy human brains.
So what is the case for keeping Sharon alive? He is not dead--he has brain activity. Still, he may be suffering if he has any awareness of being trapped inside his own body. Prolonging his life may be causing incredible misery to him and others like him.
Like we said, creepy.
UCLA says some of its top people, including assistant professor of psychology and neurosurgery Martin Monti, helped conduct the MRI tests on 84-year-old Sharon.
According to the school:
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The scientists showed Sharon pictures of his family, had him listen to his son's voice and used tactile stimulation to assess the extent to which his brain responded to external stimuli.
To their surprise, significant brain activity was observed in each test, in specific brain regions, indicating appropriate processing of these stimulations ...
Monti says the experiment should be viewed with "caution:"
... The evidence does not as clearly indicate whether Mr. Sharon is consciously perceiving this information. We found faint brain activity indicating that he was complying with the tasks. He may be minimally conscious, but the results were weak and should be interpreted with caution.