Skepticism Squared

Skeptics have called into question the legitimacy of the "awakening" of the man falsely diagnosed as comatose for 23 years, as I noted in an update to this post, though without reading the story too carefully.

However, when I saw the skeptic was Arthur Caplan, I became skeptical of the skepticsm, given that Caplan's a bioethicist who's never found a boundary he didn't feel it was ethical to transgress, nor a life he thought worthy of living.

Caplan's suspects it's the aide doing the communicating, not the patient:

Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has had no direct contact with Houben or personal knowledge of the case, said he is skeptical of Houben's ability to communicate after seeing video of his hand being moved along the keyboard.

"That's called 'facilitated communication,'" Caplan said. "That is Ouija board stuff. It's been discredited time and time again. When people look at it, it's usually the person doing the pointing who's doing the messages, not the person they claim they are helping."

Well, that does sound fishy. Except the man's doctors in fact thought of that and tested for it.
Laureys' team showed Houben an object while his aide was taken outside, and when she came back in he was able to write it down correctly, said Prof. Audren Vandaudenhuyse, a colleague of Laureys.
"So all that has been checked and confirmed, so we are sure it is him who is talking," Vanhaudenhuyse said.

Nor is the nurse the only method of communication. He has also used a speech computer.

Houben's mother, Fina, told the AP her son has been communicating for three years and she believes no one is guiding him.

"At first he had to push with his foot on a sort of computer mouse which only had a yes-no side," she said in a telephone interview. "Slowly he got better and developed through a language computer and now communicates with this speech therapist holding his hand."

And experts trust the doctor.

Dr. James Bernat of Dartmouth Medical School said he could not comment on the facts of Houben's case specifically. However, he called Laureys "a very rigorous scientist and physician ... one of the world's leaders" in the field of brain imaging in people with consciousness disorders.
So. I trust the doctors who've actually seen the patient a wee bit more than a highly partisan "ethicist" who has no firsthand knowledge.

And so does Wesley J. Smith, who's an expert.