There is no such thing as unconscious.

Margaret Rice interviews Michael Barbato, pic courtesy NSNC.
Margaret Rice interviews Michael Barbato

Dr Michael Barbato recently made a big claim: “There is no such thing as unconsciousness.”

He said this when I interviewed him for North Sydney Community Centre’s Conversations about Death and Dying.

“Can you share with us, what the latest wisdom is, about the experience of the unconscious when somebody is dying, and the state of unconsciousness?” I asked.

“I generally start off my answer to that question by saying there is no such thing as unconsciousness,” he replied.

“Because if we use the word and accept the term unconscious it suggests we’re not conscious and the principal thing about consciousness is an awareness of the space outside of you and the space within you. So you can hear, you can see, you can smell, you can taste and you can experience pain, that’s experiencing sensations outside,” he went on to explain.

“The interior or the inner sensations are the feelings, emotions you have at the time…  The reality is when someone is unconscious or comatose, they are almost always unresponsive.  Now I say almost always because sometimes they actually can respond.

“But more often than not, we use the term unconscious or comatose when they no longer can respond. But that doesn’t mean to say they are unaware.”

That comment has big implications, for the dying and those of us sitting at the bedside.

To hear this interview, go to:

For more on Michael Barbato on this website, go to:

Read The Dying Game from Michael Barbato.

To purchase A Good Death: a compassionate and practical guide to prepare for the end of life, go to:

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