A persistent vegetative state (commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as "brain-death") sometimes follows a coma. Individuals in such a state have lost their thinking abilities and awareness of their surroundings, but retain non-cognitive function and normal sleep patterns. Even though those in a persistent vegetative state lose their higher brain functions, other key functions such as breathing and circulation remain relatively intact. Spontaneous movements may occur, and the eyes may open in response to external stimuli. They may even occasionally grimace, cry, or laugh. Although individuals in a persistent vegetative state may appear somewhat normal, they do not speak and they are unable to respond to commands.
Of importance in this definition is that the patient is not dying. The patient is profoundly disabled.
Today’s Guardian covers a report in the medical journal NeuroRehabilitation. Three patients in a diagnosed PVS were given Zolpidem, a short-acting sleep medication with seemingly miraculous results.
A drug commonly used as a sleeping pill appears to have had a miraculous effect on brain-damaged patients who have been in a permanent vegetative state for years, arousing them to the point where some are able to speak to their families, scientists report today.
The dramatic improvement occurs within 20 minutes of taking the drug, Zolpidem, and wears off after around four hours - at which point the patients return to their permanent vegetative state, according to a paper published in the medical journal NeuroRehabilitation
Could this really be true? Obviously this needs lots more study and no conclusions can be drawn yet. However, I also think it should prod those who advocate withdrawing care from patients in a PVS to pause and reconsider their position.