The news world is agog at the horror of the Belgian man who was thought to be in a coma for 23 years but turns out to have had ‘locked in syndrome’ – in other words, he was conscious the whole time. Â This is creepy and sad and tragic, and one of those scenarios we all have on our Never Want to Experience list along with ‘buried alive’ ‘adopted by the Phelps Family’ and ‘accidentally marrying your own mother’. The science seems reasonable: new brain-scanning equipment in 2006 enabled doctors to see that Rom Houben’s brain was working. If that was all the story covered, it would still be an amazing story. Unfortunately the media have been rather distracted by the comments of Mr Houben himself, though, which are delivered to us via his hand tapping on a keyboard, aided by ‘a facilitator’. Yep, it looks for all the world like Rom Houben is now a victim of Facilitated Communication, something which Randi described yesterday as a cruel farce.
Watch the BBC video of Rom’s communication here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8375326.stm
Yesterday the BBC had a different interview online, one in which the journalist says that although Rom speaks fluent English, he was replying to Â questions inÂ Flemish. That’s entirely Rom’s choice of course…unless it isn’t. Does the facilitator speak fluent English? Has a test been done to make sure the facilitator is not choosing Rom’s words for him? Have any of the journalists covering this story raised these questions or done any basic research into Facilitated Communication? For Rom Houben’s sake, I would really like to know.
Edit and correction: Jeff Wagg found the BBC video I refer to (as it wasn’t on the BBC news site when I composed this post), it’s here. The journalist says that Rom “understands English”, not that he’s fluent in it. That doesn’t change much, but understanding English isn’t the same as being able to write it (for Rom OR his facilitator, I should add), so I feel a footnote is appropriate.