Persistent vegetative state: Clinical and ethical issues

Abstract

Coma, vegetative state, lock-in syndrome and akinetic mutism are defined. Vegetative state is a state with no evidence of awareness of self or environment and showing cycles of sleep and wakefulness. PVS is an operational definition including time as a variable. PVS is a vegetative state that has endured or continued for at least one month. PVS can be diagnosed with a reasonable amount of medical certainty; however, the diagnosis of PVS must be kept separate from the outcome. The patient outcome can be predicted based on etiology and age. Using outcome probabilities and etiology as criteria, patients can be subdivided in 5 groups and reasonable management guidelines can be suggested. Three levels of care can be provided to PVS patients: high technology, supportive and compassionate care. Pragmatic options for the various subgroups of patients are suggested. Management decisions will remain difficult for both the family and the health-care team. The role of the physician in these difficult cases is to share the decision-making with the family.

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