Author Archives: Jen Pianin

New Brain-Imaging Scans for Patients in Vegetative States

The other day I read a headline regarding a woman waking up from a vegetative state after seven years. After reading many articles about the Terri Schiavo case, I had to read about this woman. It turns out that she fell into a coma after giving birth due to developing sepsis, a deadly blood poisoning disease. It seemed almost impossible to me that she woke up from this vegetative state after reading about the true definition of a vegetative state. After doing some research I began to find more cases in which patients have woken up after being labeled as “vegetative.”

A woman named Maggie Worthen fell into a coma after suffering a massive stroke at the age of 22. She woke up from a deep coma two weeks later and began her recovery; however, two months after therapy she became unresponsive and was labeled as “vegetative.” Her family claimed that she was responding to certain things but only one doctor believed them (similar to Terri Schiavo) and she was transferred to a hospital to experience new high-tech imaging that assesses brain activity. The technology did, in fact show that she was responsive and she was now labeled as “minimally conscious.”

This new technology can help people in these comas or vegetative states be properly diagnosed. Some neurologists are claiming that these new brain imaging scans prove that “some seemingly vegetative patients are actually teetering between consciousness and unconsciousness.” While this is definitely a break through in the medical world, it still makes things very murky. The definitions of these so-called labels are still obscure. When are these patients considered alright to die? Are they ever, because some people are waking up from these states? All of these questions emerge when new technology comes about. Imagine if this was around during the Terri Schiavo case. However, we can only hope that this new brain-imaging technology can help patients with severe brain injuries and damage to recover.

Aboriginal Mortuary Rituals

Similar to many practices that we’ve discussed in the blog and in class, Aboriginal mortuary rituals in Australia are much different than Western ideas. The rituals begin with a smoking ceremony. The purpose of this ceremony is to drive away the deceased’s spirit. In order to do this they smoke in the deceased home. Next, they paint ochre in places the deceased lived and put up a flag to mark that the deceased has died. There is another ceremony called the death ceremony. The body is left inside the deceased’s home while mourners celebrate before it is wrapped up and placed on a platform where it will decompose as opposed to a tomb/coffin. Instead of mourning the deceased in sadness, they feast and celebrate with singing and dancing.

Another interesting part of their mortuary rituals is that Aboriginal people in Australian avoid saying the name of the dead or depicting them in photos or films. According to ancient law, saying or depicting a dead person’s name would disturb their spirit. As can be seen from their mortuary rituals, driving the deceased’s spirit away is incredibly important. Therefore, disturbing the spirit would be just as harmful. They also believe in the rebirth of the soul; therefore, driving the spirit onward to it’s next life is crucial.

Upon reading about these burial practices, it became apparent that many of their rituals are similar to other cultures we discussed including the Tana Toraja and the Malagasy people. Mortuary rituals are extremely important to these cultures and while they may seem obscure to Western cultures, their practices hold a crucial role in their society. Many of these cultures interact with the deceased in a way that allows for celebration. The burial and funerary practices take precedence over many of the other rites of passages in these cultures. In contrast to our society, mortuary rituals aren’t even thought about usually, until someone has died.