Rom Houbens was conscious. In fact he was screaming but no one could hear him. After a horrific car crash in 1983, Doctors declared the Belgian to be in a vegetative state and treated him as such for 23 years. All the while he was fully aware of everything happening in his room. He could hear every sentence and observe every procedure. His word for the experience was “frustrating.” I think it is amazing that he did not go insane. This reminds me of the Terry Schiavo case whose feeding tube was removed in 2005 with the result that she starved to death. Was she actually in a coma or was she like Rom Houbens?
Houbens said that he dealt with the years of boredom by placing himself in a dream state where he dreamed of a better life. Eventually brain scans improved (only recently) and it was determined that his brain was entirely unimpaired. Doctors gave him the ability to communicate via a touch screen and he can read books. It’s good news but 23 years is a long time to wait. At the minimum this teaches us that medical science has no right to righteous indignation when it’s certainties are challenged by “uninformed” people like me.
The bigger question is where is the center of our personality? Science would say that the brain is the source of willpower, character and personality. Augustine of Hippo famously said “The mind commands the body and it obeys. The mind orders itself and meets resistance.” Really? What could be resisting the commands of the mind? Is there a part of us that is not contained in the brain?
There has to be. The Bible teaches as much. I Thessalonians 5:23 …may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NASB) The soul, I believe, is another name for the will. The body contains all of the physical self including the brain. The spirit is that part of us which can communicate with God and which, once born again, is perfect. (See Romans 7)
What happens to the spirit when the body is in a coma? If you read my post about the death of my Mother (http://brianchronister.com/roberta-lois-chronister/,) you know that I believe the spirit is present and has it’s own life even when the body is weak or dying. Our spirit is the true source of our personality and character. The brain and will implement and twist it. When any of us place our trust in Christ, the spirit is “born again” and begins to wrestle with the body and will. I call this the “Battle of the born again.” The normal human has no battle because the spirit part of us is dead to God and agrees with every decision of the will and command of the brain. Give the spirit life in Christ and all bets are off. The war begins and the brain and will find itself commanded to follow the lead of the spirit in us.
Since this is true, I hold these opinions. No human is a mechanism. We are much greater than the sum of our physical parts. Thus I am opposed to the philosophy of evolution which seeks to reduce man to his components. It cannot be true and is not true. Second, be aware that the spirit of man is alive and aware. Don’t assume that the comatose are unobservant. I feel an indescribable awe when I enter the presence of the dying.
There is more to this life than what we see. Only the most arrogant among us think otherwise.
Romans 8 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (NASB)