Karen Quinlan

Gregory S Berns berns+ at pitt.edu
Sun Jul 10 10:33:29 EST 1994

In article <2vk8u8$9l6 at portal.gmu.edu> herwin at mason1.gmu.edu (HARRY R. ERWIN) writes:
>They did an autopsy on Karen Ann Quinlan's brain to see if they could
>learn anything about her persistant vegetative state. It turns out her
>thalamus had been extensively lesioned, thus turning off sensory input
>other than from the olfactory system. She may well have been conscious
>until she died.
>Harry Erwin
>Internet: herwin at gmu.edu 
>Just a dumb engineer working on Katchalsky nets....

Just because much of the pathology was in the thalamus as opposed to
the cortex does not mean that she was conscious, and she did in fact
have extensive cortical damage:

"... extensive bilateral thalamic scarring, bilateral cortical scars primarily
in the occipital pole and parasagittal parieto-occipital region, and
bilateral damage to cerebellar and focal-basal-ganglia regions....lesions
were consistent with hypoxia-iscemia after the cardiopulmonary arrest."

(NEJM 330:1469-1475, May 26, 1994)

The lesions support the idea that a crucial part of consciousness is
arousal.  The thalamic lesions probably damaged her arousal system
and therefore she was not conscious.

Greg Berns, MD,PhD
Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic
University of Pittsburgh

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