Patient trapped in a 23-year ‘coma’ was conscious all along — or, you know, not.

This story of a man emerging from a 23 year old coma has been doing the rounds (Roger Ebert, Guy Kawasaki, et al):


A car crash victim has spoken of the horror he endured for 23 years after he was misdiagnosed as being in a coma when he was conscious the whole time.

Rom Houben, trapped in his paralysed body after a car crash, described his real-life nightmare as he screamed to doctors that he could hear them – but could make no sound.

‘I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,’ said Mr Houben, now 46, who doctors thought was in a persistent vegatative state.

‘I dreamed myself away,’ he added, tapping his tale out with the aid of a computer.

'I dreamed myself away': Rom Houben, now 46, has told of the nightmare of being trapped in a paralysed body, unable to tell doctors that he was awake, for 23 years

Doctors used a range of coma tests before reluctantly concluding that his consciousness was ‘extinct’.

But three years ago, new hi-tech scans showed his brain was still functioning almost completely normally.

Mr Houben described the moment as ‘my second birth’. Therapy has since allowed him to tap out messages on a computer screen.


But some raise doubts, such as James Randi (via @vaughanbell):


I’m enraged. Several perceptive persons have sent me to msnbc.com – where we can see Dr. Nancy Snyderman relating a story.  It’s a heartrender, described thus by Dr. Snyderman:

A mother [in Belgium] says her son has emerged from what doctors thought was a vegetative state to say he was fully conscious for 23 years but could not respond because he was paralyzed.

No, that is not what the man said, Dr. Snyderman. That’s what an incompetent layperson typed for him! I ask you to first go to http://tinyurl.com/y8lku48, and note the section of the video from 12 to 35 seconds, then come back here.

[…]

I personally investigated this matter. In March of 1992 I was contacted by Dr. Anne M. Donnellan, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who asked if I would be willing to participate in an investigation of FC as used with autistic children. I was already familiar with FC, and suggested to her that I felt the researchers were perhaps under the influence of the Clever Hans Effect [CHE], also known as the “ideomotor effect,”  in which the trainer – the facilitator in this case – was unconsciously transmitting the information to the autistic child. This possibility was emphatically denied by Dr. Donnellan, and I was assured that every care had been taken to ensure that the CHE was not in operation. The Clever Hans Effect is notorious in psychology. Early in the last century, a horse named Clever Hans – in German, der Kluge Hans – was claimed to have been able to perform arithmetic and other simple intellectual tasks. In 1907, psychologist Oskar Pfungst showed conclusively that the horse was not actually performing these mental tasks, but was reacting to cues provided by his trainer.

[…]

The “facilitated communication” process consists of the “facilitator” actually holding the hand of the subject over the keyboard, moving the hand to the key, then drawing the hand back from the keyboard! This very intimate participatory action lends itself very easily to transferring the intended information to the computer screen. In the video you have just viewed, it is very evident that (a) the “facilitator” is looking directly at the keyboard and the screen, and (b) is moving the subject’s hand. The video editing is also biased, giving angles that line up the head of the subject with the screen, as if the subject were watching the screen.

This man in the msnbc.com piece is not seeing the screen. He is not aware of what is going on. He is an unknowing victim of these charlatans. A simple test – such as that done on October 19th, 1993, in a Frontline (PBS) documentary highlighting these concerns, “Prisoners of Silence,” would prove that FC is a total fraud.  This powerful and comprehensive program proved that FC was a delusion.

[…]

We critics of FC question why people can apparently give speeches in public – via a keyboard and a “facilitator” – and go to college – similarly “assisted” – yet they cannot answer a series of simple questions under controlled conditions! Psychologist Daniel Wegner, professor of psychology at Harvard University and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has stated that facilitated communication is a striking example of the ideomotor effect, and tests of FC show that it is a complete fraud, farce, and delusion!


The proof that this phenomenon is, if not a hoax, then at least completely unreliable, is compelling.


Facilitated communication (FC) has been heralded as a breakthrough technique for nonverbal people with autism. The method uses a helper to control the involuntary movements of an autistic person’s hand, allowing that person to type his or her thoughts on a keyboard. Thousands of people have begun using FC, often to communicate major life decisions like the desire to go to college or to move to a new home. But many scientists reject FC as simply not real and believe that it is the facilitator who is unknowingly controlling the hand of the autistic individual. FRONTLINE presents a comprehensive investigation of this controversial technique, interviewing the leaders of the FC movement, scientists, facilitators, and parents of autistic children and raises tough questions about the implications of its use for people with autism and their families.

 

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