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Keeping hope alive: Brain activity in vegetative state patients

Thirteen year-old Jahi McMath went into Oakland Children’s Hospital on December 9 for a tonsillectomy. Three days later she was declared brain-dead. Severe complications from the surgery resulted in cardiac arrest and the eventual tragic demise of Ms. McMath; and while neurologists and pediatricians at the hospital have declared Jahi brain-dead, her family refuses to accept the doctors’ diagnosis, fighting to keep her on life support.

This heartrending battle between hospital and family is sadly not a new one, and there is often little that can be done to compromise the two sides. However, neuroscientific research in recent years has made substantial developments in more empirically determining if there are still signs of consciousness in vegetative state patients, which can either bring hope to a desperate family, or provide stronger footing for doctors trying to do the more difficult but often more humane thing.