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Recent studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging of patients in a vegetative state have raised the possibility that such patients retain some degree of consciousness. In this paper, the ethical implications of such findings are outlined, in particular in relation to decisions about withdrawing life-sustaining treatment. It is sometimes assumed that if there is evidence of consciousness, treatment should not be withdrawn. But, paradoxically, the discovery of consciousness in very severely brain-damaged patients may provide more reason to let them die. Although functional neuroimaging is likely to play an increasing role in the assessment of patients in a vegetative state, caution is needed in the interpretation of neuroimaging findings.

Original publication

DOI

10.1136/jme.2008.029165

Type

Journal article

Journal

J Med Ethics

Publication Date

08/2009

Volume

35

Pages

508 - 511

Keywords

Cognition, Consciousness, Disability Evaluation, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Persistent Vegetative State, Predictive Value of Tests, Withholding Treatment