LONDON, Ontario, November 15, 2012, ( – The secret interior life of a person deemed to be in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) is beginning to be unlocked, thanks to the application of a recent medical breakthrough.

By analyzing brain waves through a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI), researchers were able to communicate with Scott Routley, a man who in the eyes of the medical world was a complete vegetable.

Routley was able to communicate to a research team that he was not in pain. The event was broadcast on the BBC’s Panorama program earlier this week.

Lead researcher Dr. Adrian Owen called the communication with Routley a “landmark moment” saying that “for the first time, a patient can actually tell us information, important information about how they’re feeling and their current situation.”

Dr. Owen, the head of the Brain and Mind Institute at the University of Western Ontario, explained to The Star that when the patient was told to imagine doing certain activities, the MRI scanner immediately picked up that specific activity in his brain.

“[F]or example, we ask him to imagine using his arms. Scott is unable to use his arms in reality, but it turns out he is perfectly able to imagine moving his arms,” he said.

Researchers communicated with Routley by asking him to respond to “yes or no” questions by imagining certain kinds of activities.

The new diagnosis technique will force doctors to take a second look at PVS patients who are possibly aware despite being trapped in a completely unresponsive body.

Alex Schadenberg, director of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, hopes that the new diagnostic technique will be a boon for people falsely diagnoses as PVS.

“For many years research studies have proven that up to 40 percent of people who are deemed to be PVS are in fact not PVS. The new diagnostic techniques are now able to clearly identify a false diagnosis of PVS,” he told

Schadenberg pointed out how the new fMRI technique could have benefited Hassan Rasouli, a former PVS patient, whose case is set to appear before the Supreme Court of Canada next month.

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The Rasouli case is based on a dispute between doctors and Rasouli’s family. Doctors at Sunnybrook hospital claimed that they had the right to withdraw Rasouli’s life sustaining machinery without his or his family’s consent.

Rasouli has since been deemed not to be PVS.

It is now up to the courts to decide if physicians have the right to unilaterally withdraw medical treatment without the consent of the patient or substitute decision maker.

While praising the benefits of the fMRI technique, Schadenberg worries that it could be used as a death sentence for people who are truly PVS.

“The fact is that the determination of PVS is now used to withdraw all medical treatment from patients. In the UK, since the Bland court decision, people who are deemed to be PVS can have their fluids and food withdrawn causing them to die by dehydration,” he said.

Bioethicist Kerry Bowman has already suggested that such diagnostic techniques could “change the way we make end-of-life care decisions in Canada”.

But Schadenberg would like to see new medical techniques used only for the benefit of patients, not as instruments aiding in their destruction.

He called the act of dehydrating a person to death who is deemed by an fMRI to be PVS “barbaric”.