Right (to a) Diagnosis? Establishing Correct Diagnoses in Chronic Disorders of Consciousness

Neuroethics 6 (1):5-11 (2012)
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Chronic disorders of consciousness, particularly the vegetative and the minimally conscious states, pose serious diagnostic challenges to neurologists and clinical psychologists. A look at the concept of “diagnosis” in medicine reveals its social construction: While medical categorizations are intended to describe facts in the real world, they are nevertheless dependent on conventions and agreements between experts and practitioners. For chronic disorders of consciousness in particular, the terminology has proven problematic and controversial over the years. Novel research utilizing functional brain imaging has demonstrated that a substantial number of patients retain their capabilities to communicate by brain activity even when they are incapable of classic verbal and nonverbal responses due to the dysfunction of their motor behavior. Moreover, thorough diagnostic assessments constitute the foundations for suitable rehabilitation measures. Thus, ethical arguments support the claim that the potential of emerging methods for communication via brain activity should be evaluated comprehensively in patients with chronic disorders of consciousness, once the technological methodology for this endeavor progresses to a reliable and affordable stage



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