CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Consciousness pushes bounds of neuroscience yet again

Patients in a persistent vegetative state nonetheless have neurological consciousness, Time reported.

Apparently, brain scans showed blood flow to active parts of the brain, which was "astonishing."

But of course. Consciousness is much bigger than we realize.

In Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution, I argued that patients in PVS could nonetheless be conscious. Working through Ericksonian hypnotherapy, patients in deep trance can communicate through ideomotoric signals. Nonverbal cues, sometimes picked up intuitively, can also signal connections between individuals at differing levels of consciousness.

But the "science" of the day had not yet caught up to that idea, since intuition is often dismissed as non-scientific. Blood flow is in the physical realm so it is verifiable ... objective ... yet nonetheless indicative of something as elusive as consciousness.

Continues the piece: If in PVS -

"Do you appreciate the words and caresses of your distraught family while racked with frustration at your inability to reassure them that they are getting through? Or do you drift in a haze, springing to life with a concrete thought when a voice prods you, only to slip back into blankness? If we could experience this existence, would we prefer it to death? And if these questions have answers, would they change our policies toward unresponsive patients--making the Terri Schiavo case look like child's play?"

These are similar to questions suggested in Beyond Complementary Medicine - which also asked, do clones have souls? (I now conclude that they must, but that's for another day). These questions would definitely change bioethical standards, which are currently based on "rational" assumptions, including that patients in a PVS lack consciousness, since they cannot respond to the world as we, "conscious" people (sleepwalkers, some) do. Hence: "Questions once confined to theological speculations and late-night dorm-room bull sessions are now at the forefront of cognitive neuroscience." Quite right.

"Consciousness surely does not depend on language. Babies, many animals and patients robbed of speech by brain damage are not insensate robots; they have reactions like ours that indicate that someone's home. Nor can consciousness be equated with self-awareness. At times we have all lost ourselves in music, exercise or sensual pleasure, but that is different from being knocked out cold." OK, so sentients beings are included. This is sounding more like Buddhism than neuroscience. Maybe they should run along parallel tracks anyway.

"The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation." And whether consciousness locates itself entirely in the brain, or also somewhere beyond, has not been resolved.

Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), a forum for exploration of legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. The most recent published book by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary, alternative and integrative medicine and related fields is Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion. This is the fourth book in a series, following Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has also been admitted to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing), adding to Bar membership in four U.S. states.

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Michael H. Cohen, Esq.; 468 North Camden Dr. | Beverly Hills, California 90210 | 310-844-3173