Patients in vegetative states appear to be awake but unconscious. If they have been in a vegetative state for more than one year, they have little chance of ever recovering. Additionally, no one can communicate with them, including physicians, loved ones, and families. However, new scientific evidence has challenged our understanding of this bleak reality. In particular, recent neuroscience research has shown that a substantial number of patients in vegetative states may actually be conscious and able to communicate through the use of brain-scanning technology. This exciting development poses many difficult questions, including the one analyzed here: now that we know neuroimaging may be the only way to communicate with these patients, will health care facilities be required to provide brain-scanning equipment under American disability law? This Note argues that lawsuits seeking neuroimaging technology from hospitals have a significant chance of success. The main challenge for plaintiffs will be convincing judges that existing scientific evidence actually shows that neuroimaging can facilitate communication with patients. Ultimately, if the appropriate legal framework develops, brain-scanning technology could permit patients in vegetative states to make decisions regarding their own medical care and allow families to communicate with their loved ones.

 

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