Can Cognition Be Involuntary?

Terry Schiavo is the brain-dead woman whose husband is trying to take her off life support, while her parents try to keep her alive.

This is a fascinating case which blends aspects of medicine, ethics, law, religion, and psychology.

I won’t comment on the repulsive political posturing and grandstanding in which our nation’s elected representatives are now engaged in Washington.

What caught my eye was the sentence in the NYT that

But many doctors say that what appear to be emotion and cognition are in fact involuntary reflexes.

But what if the “emotion” and “cognition” we all show every day is actually “involuntary”? What does “involuntary” mean? Is it an “emotion” when a baby smiles back at you, and is it “voluntary”? Is it “cognition” when my cat intently follows a bird flying outside our window?

(It being completely irrelevant from the legal standpoint, of course, whether Terry is showing “cognition” or “emotion” when she follows a balloon with her eyes—she can’t make or communicate decisions about her medical treatment, and the law says in that case her husband gets to make them for her. I guess that’s too complicated for the hyprocrites claiming to be in favor of a “culture of life”, who would better be described as in favor of a “culture of vegetables”.)

One Response to “Can Cognition Be Involuntary?”

  1. Brian Richmond Says:

    The Pope’s health is failing and he may wind up in a Terry Schiavo-like coma and life-support situation. How would that situation be dealt with? It is possible to keep someone alive on life-support and continuos medical care so that their body lives a great deal longer than anyone would otherwise live. It is even potentially possible that, with improvements to medicine, a body could be kept alive eternally. Would the Pope be kept on life-support eternally?

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