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Vegetative patient Scott Routley says 'I'm not in pain'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 10 Dec 2012, 21:08

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Fig.1. Using scanning a doctor communicates with Scott Routley  who has been in a coma for over ten years (BBC, 2012)

Using scanning a doctor communicates with Scott Routley who has been in a coma for over ten years (BBC, 2012)

Invaluable to this patient but opening all kinds of possibilities in relation to responding to a stimulus through thought alone.

If this patient 'learns' how to communicate further than this surely is technology enhanced learning on the very out fringes of the extreme. In practice an engineer might describe this as 'testing to destruction' - lessons are learnt from such cases.

See more on Panorama http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ny377

Asked to think about the future of learning and for disabled students in particular, I couldn't help but consider the most extreme forms of e-learning with severely disabled patients - those beyond our reach the 'brain dead' while those in a vegative state coming within reach - and is this state is one we go into under general anaesthetic, one from which a person does occassionally recover.

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Fig.2. A new brain scanner helps completely paralysed people to spell words

I don't want to be a guinea-pig in such a set up, but what if having been kept 'alive' say after a car accident I tell those who have stirred me to communicate that I wish I had died on the roadside all those years ago? Do they remove the technology and well me into a side room until I die of natural causes decades later? (This was the scenario in a black and white ante-war movie of the 1930s ... I think. Recall the detail of the film and would love its name if you know it).

I don't mean to be flippant, but could this technology be used to talk with animals ... or give us the sense that we are ? If attached to such devices in our sleep, might dream actions be turned into real ones?

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Fig.3. Real-life Jedi: Pushing the limits of mind control (BBC 2012) Last accessed 10 Dec 2012

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15200386

And who gets there hands on this extremely expensive kit? Anyone willing to be a guinea-pig? The children of billionaires? Or in time - everyone with a need.

If in your 90s you are reduced to this state could you or would you want to extend life if it could be enriched in this way? Pushing humans into a stage that is more than just one foot in the grave - you are, in every sense, living as if buried alive? And if this could be realistically be sustained for decades?

Depends on the person I suppose.

 

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Design Museum

What communicating with a person in a vegetative state can do for e-learning

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The self-drive car will allow those with sight, mobility and other disabilities to travel when and where they want for the first time - had accessibility laws been enforced 100 years ago how far would cars have got? The self-drive computer is a decade away - this is a computer controlled by the user's thoughts - something already trialled by communicating with people in a vegatitive state - will this be the ultimate degree of accessibility? Legislation and policy sets the bar overwhich institutions must step - this bar should be raised constantly to strive to keep not too far behind what is possible. From time to time it would be valuable for someone to reach way beyond, this will be achieved by working with disabled students, the case of the patient in a vegative state the most extreme example - knowledge gained in that extreme example offering insights that could be used in the general population and of course with people who are far less disabled than this extreme.
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