By now everyone has heard of the miracle in Belgium. If you have not, here is the synopsis:
Rom Houben was in a car-crash 23 years ago. All sorts of tests back then “proved” he was in a “permanent vegetative state” and not capable of any thought or communication due to a devastating brain injury. Now, skip forward 23 years to the present and neurologist Steve Laureys of the Coma Science Group at the University of Liege finds that in fact Mr. Houben is fully conscious. Not only that, by holding his hand, Linda Wouters, a therapist, can “feel” Houben guiding her hand with gentle pressure from his fingers. Now, via pointing at keys on a keyboard while Ms. Wouters holds his hand, Mr. Houben is reportedly saying things like “It was especially frustrating when my family needed me. I could not share in their sorrow.” Hence, after twenty-three years locked inside his body, fully conscious and ignored, while not being able to move or communicate, all of the sudden, he communicates as if no time has passed.
In my humble opinion, this is bull. Now, let me back up my claim …
Disclaimer: I know nothing other than what I have read in the news. I wish, pray, and hope that it is true and that in fact, Mr. Houben is now communicating, seriously.
This is a sensationalized case of (fraudulent) Facilitated Communication of which I spoke about in a post a few days ago. Let’s first look at the patient, Mr. Houben.
Mr. Houben has seemingly been in a coma for 23 years. Totally non-communicative, and pretty much left alone. Twenty-three years in a form of solitary confinement. No interactions with other people, just hearing things around him. Not able to move his head or eyes, not able to change what he is looking at. Very much like a prisoner in “the hole.”
This past March, The New Yorker ran an article, “HELLHOLE – The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?”
EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.
So basically, if Mr. Houben could communicate now, his personality would be mush. Not the loquacious, intelligent and caring person he appears to be.
And the doctor? The doctor who discovered that Mr. Houben can now communicate, Steven Laureys leads the Coma Science Group at the University of Liege in Belgium. He claims that people in non-communicative states are misdiagnosed up to 40 percent of the time. What do you think this is doing to his business? Yes, financial situation. There has reportedly been a large increase in interest in his program. Duh.
The therapist? Well, she works for the doctor.
Time to check out the video. Note things like how firmly the therapist holds his hand, how quickly the key choices are made, note where he is looking or if his eyes are open (can he even see the keyboard), note the speed of the choices, etc.
If you still think this is real, then check out this video that shows him communicating while clearly asleep. ASLEEP. Look at his eyes (well, eyelids, his eyes are closed).
You can also read this blog post from James Randi, who, in full disclosure, I have met and idolized when I was younger.
Why do I care, why do I blog about this? Because all I hope for is communication from Pearlsky and facilitated communication is on the table. Multiple people brought this case to my attention with her in mind. It is infuriating that such a farce is giving false hope. I know that facilitated communication has, in rare instances, been genuine, but not like this. This story does for Facilitated Communication what Tina Fey did for Sarah Palin.
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” Ummm, sorry Adolph, but no.