Into the Gray Zone
by Adrian Owen
Simon & Schuster

The gray zone is the stuff of nightmares but, equally, hope. Imagine hearing the order “do not resuscitate” when you are trapped in a vegetative state but actually conscious.

With this book, British neuroscientist Adrian Owen, who has spent two decades trying to “pull people out of the void”, forces us to consider that belt between life and death, and points to a study of 91 people with “locked-in” syndrome (conscious but able to communicate only with their eyes) that revealed only seven wanted to be euthanised.

Owen tells movingly, sometimes thrillingly, of people whose conditions have helped others understand what it means to be alive. For example, in response to his question, “Are you in pain?” an otherwise unresponsive patient indicated using only brain activity: “No.” That breakthrough can be seen through a BBC video link mentioned in the book.

Also important is the section in which Owen explains that consciousness (and the ability to experience pain) is “highly unlikely” in any form before about 33 weeks after conception.

Metaphysical arguments in the absence of physical answers, are, he says, irrational.