March 3, 2024

Do we need to rename “persistent vegetative state”?

Do we need to change the name of persistent vegetative state?

Do we need to change the name of persistent vegetative state? A feature in the St Louis Post-Dispatch argues that the term is applied “sloppily” and that studies have “undermined the validity of the PVS diagnosis.” Colleen Carroll Campbell, an author and former presidential speechwriter, points out that when American neurologist Fred Plum and Scottish neurosurgeon Bryan Jennett picked the term “vegetative”, they wanted a jargon-free term that could classify severely brain-damaged patients whom they considered awake but unaware. Campbell writes that families of those described as “vegetative” have “long chafed at the dehumanizing and bleak overtones of the label, not to mention the high rates of misdiagnosis among PVS patients.

Campbell also points out two recent cases which have added weight to the complaints and raised concerns about how often patients are written off – when there may be hope. A report was published in The Lancet last month by neuroscientists at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. The researchers used a portable electroencephalography machine, or EEG, to test the awareness of PVS patients at their bedside. Researchers discovered that almost 20% of the “vegetative” patients they tested were actually aware. 

The second was reported in BioEdge last week – a New York Times feature recounted the story of Chris Cox, a man from Tennessee who fell into minimal consciousness after a vehicle accident and subsequent overdose of Oxycontin. While on the prescription sleeping drug Ambien, he is able to respond to his environment, respond to basic commands, and smile and speak on cue. This remedy grabbed a lot of attention in 2006 when the medical journal NeuroRehabilitation published a study of 3 patients who were supposedly vegetative who experienced periods of wakefulness and responsiveness every day with the help of Ambien’s generic counterpart zolpidem. ~ St Louis Today, Dec 8

Do we need to rename “persistent vegetative state”?
Jared Yee
minimal consciousness
vegetative state