Wednesday, 28 July 2010

"Locked-in" patients may be able to drive wheelchairs by breathing

Yesterday the Telegraph carried the remarkable story that people with so-called "locked-in syndrome" may be able to drive wheelchairs and surf the internet by breathing.

The Telegraph reports:
"Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have created a 'sniff detector' that is able to pick up pressure changes in the wearer's nasal cavity and convert it into electrical signals.

"The device can then be hooked up to special software and used to move a cursor on a computer screen or control a wheelchair.
"One patient, a 51-year-old woman who was left unable to move, speak or blink after a stroke, was able to communicate for the first time using the new technology.

"After 19 days learning to produce a sniff on demand with 20 minutes of practice a day, she was able to write her family a message for the first time. To this day, the 'sniff detector' remains her only means of expressing herself.

"Another man, who had been 'locked in' for 18 years following a car accident, wrote his own name within 20 minutes of using the device."
I wrote last November about how the case of Rom Houben (pictured), who was misdiagnosed for 23 years as being in a coma-like state, challenges the pro-euthanasia mentality which exists regarding severely incapacitated patients.  Rom also had 'locked-in syndrome' and was always consciously aware.

What Janet Thomas, of No Less Human, said about the case of Rom Houben, is entirely applicable to yesterday's story in the Telegraph:
"This case highlights the huge dangers in assessing profoundly disabled people as having lives not worth living. Surely, with all the medical resources at our disposal, a truly civilised society would be concentrating on saving and improving life, not terminating it ... Following the 1992 Bland judgment, and under the Mental Capacity Act and related professional guidance, such patients are in danger of being dehydrated to death."
Indeed so. Parliamentarians need urgently to turn their attention to the tragic consequences of the Mental Capacity Act.

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