Ariel Sharon may be conscious

The world’s most famous person in a permanent vegetative state is former Israeli Prime-Minister Ariel Sharon. He suffered a massive stroke seven years ago, and has been completely disabled ever since.

Except that now it appears that this was the wrong diagnosis. A recent neurological test has indicated that there is activity in his brain. The test, a special two-hour fMRI conducted by doctors at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, indicated increase cognitive activity when Sharon was presented with various stimuli such as family pictures, a recording of his son's voice, and human touch.

The doctors said they were surprised to discover significant activity in relevant parts of his brain in response to all tests. "These results point to mental processing of sensory information," Soroka reported. "Information from Sharon's external environment reaches the appropriate regions of his brain," said Professor Martin Monti from the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who participated in the examination alongside Soroka's experts. He added, however: "The evidence is not conclusive regarding the degree to which Sharon is aware of his surroundings." Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, former adviser to Sharon, was encouraged by the results. "He has yet to return to full consciousness and that is our aspiration," said Gissin, "but there are positive signs that his brain can respond."

The results of Sharon's tests are similar to other recent findings about patients suspected of being in a vegetative state. In November 2012, Scott Routley, a 39-year-old British man believed to be in a vegetative state after a car accident, was apparently aware of his surroundings and capable of basic communication. However, even if they retain some consciousness, the possibility of returning to normal life is vanishingly small.

This article is published by Xavier Symons and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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