Three hospitalized, brain-damaged men who were unresponsive and apparently unconscious of their surroundings caught observers by surprise when they repeatedly responded to commands by researchers. Although the men, diagnosed as vegetative, couldn't physically move or speak, a headset of electrodes measured their brain activity after neurologists asked them to imagine wiggling their toes or clenching a fist. One of the patients responded over 100 times, the researchers reported in The Lancet, a British medical journal. Roughly 20,000 Americans are living in a persistent vegetative state—a condition of being awake but presumably unaware. That condition led to a national outcry over the late Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube was removed in 2005. The results of the new study suggest one-fifth of these patients might actually retain consciousness. A brain scanning system could enable them to communicate with their families.
-from World magazine's December 3, 2011 issue, p. 10
The abstract from The Lancet article is here.