Despite showing no behavioral signs that they are aware of anything, some patients diagnosed as being in a vegetative state are able to remain conscious because the thalamus in their brain is still intact, even though its connection to the motor cortex (which controls our voluntary movements) is severely damaged, according to a University of Birmingham report (19 October 2015):
Dr Davinia Fernández-Espejo, from the University of Birmingham, explained, “A number of patients who appear to be in a vegetative state are actually aware of themselves and their surroundings, able to comprehend the world around them, create memories and imagine events as with any other person.”…
“In highlighting damage to the pathways that physically connect the thalamus, one of the hubs of consciousness if you will, and the motor cortex, which drives our voluntary muscular activity, as the reason behind the dissociation we have provided an important explanation”….
Dr Fernández-Espejo added, “The ultimate aim is to use this information in targeted therapies that can drastically improve the quality of life of patients. For example, with the advances being made in assistive technology, if we can help a patient to regain even limited movement in one finger it opens up so many possibilities for communication and control of their environment.”
Sadly, there are some philosophers who think that the lives of people in a vegetative state are not worth living. Had we been living in a culture in which the views of these philosophers held sway, would this research have been done at all? I doubt it. We’d probably never get to even hear about PVS patients who regained consciousness after a period of years (12 years in one case): the news would get swept under the rug.