Neuroscientist Adrian Owen for New Scientist Magazine // Consider what makes you the person you are: your memories, your personality, your ability to think and feel. Now imagine losing your ability to make contact with the outside world.
If others could no longer tell whether you were aware of yourself and your surroundings, would you still be you?
Dr. Adrian Owen has devoted his research to reaching out to patients with serious brain damage who exist in a murky state of consciousness. He has been asked to test the consciousness of individuals such as Toronto patient Hassan Rasouli, whose case sparked a historic Supreme Court ruling on determining whether to withdraw life support; Oakville resident Juan Torres, whose astounding recovery from brain damage defied doctors' expectations; and even the late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who was incapacitated in his final years following a stroke.
As Owen explains in his new book, Into The Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death, an estimated 20 per cent of patients whom doctors typically regard as vegetative or non-responsive are more aware than they seem. They can see, hear and understand what's going on around them, but are unable to communicate with the outside world.