Deep brain stimulation for prolonged disorders of consciousness

Clinical Ethics 11 (4):105-111 (2016)
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Abstract

Deep brain stimulation has emerged as a “last resort” therapy for patients with prolonged disorders of consciousness. The latter encompasses a range of conditions including minimal conscious state and persistent vegetative state. Functional neuroimaging studies have shown that minimal conscious state and persistent vegetative state have different patterns of residual brain function and may therefore respond differently to deep brain stimulation. The failure to distinguish between the two conditions in this context can give rise to false expectation, misunderstanding and ill-guided treatment. As a halfway technology for prolonged disorders of consciousness, deep brain stimulation could also produce improvement in awareness that is in fact harm, and its impact may involve a wide range of public interests. This paper will discuss related ethical and legal issues with an emphasis on the distinction between minimal conscious state and persistent vegetative state in the application of deep brain stimulation.

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