Comment: Science A Welcome Ally In Fight

In that regard, Into The Gray Zone by Adrian Owen is manna from Heaven for those of us battling euthanasia. Dr. Owen, an esteemed neuroscientist in Western University, has resisted the notion of the “vegetative state” and in turn what does life seem like.  

His job was with the victims of traumatic brain injury, stroke and degenerative disorder who until recently were unreachable and believed d**d in all but title. Those unfortunate folks ended up warehoused until d***h took them away.

Over years of painstaking research, Owen discovered almost a fifth of those announced in a vegetative state inhabited a distance somewhere between “full awareness and mind d***h”– exactly what he has called “the gray zone.”

As I wrote recently, the federal government will appear next year in expanding euthanasia to adolescents and people with mental illness. Those two categories I coated. The next group, enabling requests for euthanasia through advanced directives, is exactly what worries this particular column.  

I’m not likely to attempt and explain the science in any excellent detail; instead, I urge you to buy the novel, which is an wonderful example of taking the complex and making it simple without dropping nuance. Additionally, it is one which is going to haunt long after you’ve closed the covers and an exciting read.  

In general, Owen and his coworkers utilized sophisticated brain scans to compare reactions of distressed patients using healthy subjects. He used everything from showing images of faces to requesting both types of test topics to imagine various situations. The patients’ reactions shaped a baseline. The functioning notion was that people in vegetative states should not show the same brain wave patterns as people with brains. The scans found something.

He described a trip to Amy, a student and an athlete, who had endured a traumatic head injury if her head slammed into a control. When he first watched Amy she was thought to be more “alert but unaware.” To many, she would have turned into a vegetable.  

But following the scans, seven months after her accident happened, Owen told her parents a thing “they had not allowed themselves to hope for.”  

“The studies have shown us that Amy is not in a vegetative state after all. She’s aware of everything.”

As Owen writes in the prologue, figuring out how to produce contact with patients such as Amy had deep “effects for science, medicine, law and philosophy.”

“Perhaps most significant we’ve discovered that 15 to 20 per cent of men and women in the vegetative state that are supposed to possess no more awareness than a head of broccoli are wholly aware….”

There is an almost eerie element to Into Your Gray Zone. The notion that somebody is aware but showing no external indications can be frightening — akin to being in a p****n of bones and skin. That is exactly why his study is so pro-life, although Owen would not declare himself such in the way of us would use the expression. Religion plays no role in his job. Yet the result for some of his patients was akin to a resurrection.

Require Debbie, the other person declared to be present in body but lost in mind. She not only began to reveal reactions but came to the surface in a means which could only be described as miraculous.

“When I saw her a year old following her scan, she had severe disabilities but was quickly improving, starting to speak again, to move her limbs, and return from the grey zone. She would pull herself up in her seat and laugh in her favorite TV programs, look at us when we talked to her, and react using fitful bursts of garbled address which gradually became increasingly intelligible.”

Regardless of his motive, Owen has given us scientific information concerning the risks rushing to approve euthanasia in directives. Medical science has a means of progressing, not falling backagain.

Nobody could envision this job even a couple of decades ago. Where it will go a few decades from today envision. Science without beliefs can bring confidence. What could be more pro-life?

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(Lewis is a Toronto author and also a frequent contributor to The Catholic Register.)

From the pro-life struggle it’s vital to collect ammunition that comes from beyond the motion. If we are likely to change the minds of this mass of Canadians, we will need to bring in data free of any agenda — in other words, scientific study which will care more about our religion or our cause.