Encephalic Monsters

This is an icky question but, well, it bothers me.

There are rare instances in which babies are born with no higher brain, just a brain stem protruding from the spine. Such unfortunates are sometimes referred to as “encephalic monsters”. I recall hearing a doctor say once that a test for the condition was to place a strong light at the base of the skull. The light will shine out through the pupils; there’s just nothing in the skull to block it.

It was long my understanding that such infants invariably die within a few hours of birth.

About ten years back, though, I read a weird wire service story about a woman who had adopted several such children. The story insisted that the children had no cerebrum or cerebellum, but were otherwise healthy. They crawled, and they responded to light, and smiled in response to physical pleasure. It was said that they had functioning eyes but were “cognitively blind”, being unable to identify what they saw, or even to be conscious of the fact that they were seeing.

The story was accompanied by a photo of a number of children, perhaps four or five years old, who all looked as though they had nothing going on behind their vacant, staring eyes.

My question: is this possible? Is this for real? Could the story have been a hoax, or could the reporter have been mistaken as to the nature of the chidren’s condition? If not, how long can such a person live? How can such a person live?

They probably live the same way Mike the Chicken did. :wink:

The correct term for the condition is aencephaly, which can be caused by a lack of B vitamins in the pregnant mother’s diet. Eat those green, leafy vegetables!

As to the OP, well, I’d guess it would depend on the case. I’m not a neurosurgeon, or even a trained medical professional, but I know that all of your autonomic nervous actions, such as heartbeat and peristalsis and breathing, are controlled by the brain stem and the spinal cord. So that’s enough to give you a vegetable, essentially a comatose person who can’t wake up. The cerebellum, a wrinkled mass below and behind the cerebral cortex, controls motor movement and learning motor movements, so if they had that, maybe they could walk around, or at least balance.

But the brain is an interconnected organ. Playing mix-and-match with the parts probably is the wrong way to try to understand it. I certainly don’t know much about it, so I’ll reserve my judgement of your story until someone with more experience comes in.

Y’all are confusing anencephaly with hydranencephaly. In anencephaly, a neural tube closure defect, most of the brain doesn’t form and the baby usually dies soon after birth. This is the condition Derleth is referring to, that correlates with folic acid deficiency, although it can be caused by other things. You can diagnose anencephaly just by looking at a baby, and it’s easy to diagnose on ultrasound because the whole back of the baby’s head doesn’t form normally and it’s really obvious that there’s something wrong.

In hydranencephaly, the baby, although lacking a cerebrum, seems normal for several weeks after birth, but eventually starts to show symptoms and dies before its first birthday. The cerebral hemispheres are replaced by fluid, and this condition can be diagnosed by shining a bright light through the baby’s head, a test called transillumination.

I think it’s interesting that a baby with no cerebrum, which is the part of your brain that’s mostly responsible for “higher” functions, can pass itself off as normal for so long. I wonder if (insert politician’s name here) could pass a transillumination test.

Here’s a link to a site that discusses some of this. I won’t post a link to a picture of an anencephalic baby, but if you see one, you’ll see why the transillumination test isn’t necessary for that condition.