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Lancet Neurol. 2012 Aug;11(8):732-8. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(12)70154-0.

Disorders of consciousness: responding to requests for novel diagnostic and therapeutic interventions.

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Institute of Ethics, History and Theory of Medicine, University of Munich, Munich, Germany.

Erratum in

  • Lancet Neurol. 2012 Oct;11(10):841.


Severe brain injury can leave patients with chronic disorders of consciousness. Because of impaired responsiveness, many of these patients have traditionally been regarded as unaware. However, findings from recent clinical studies herald a potential paradigm shift: functional imaging and neurophysiological studies have identified ways to assess awareness and have revealed astounding cases of awareness despite clinical unresponsiveness. Hence, diagnostic classifications have been rewritten, prognostic knowledge is improving, and therapeutic studies have regained momentum, showing for the first time some therapeutic effects on responsiveness. Clinicians must increasingly respond to requests by patients' families and surrogate decision makers to use novel techniques for diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, and in doing so several ethical and social issues need to be considered. Such requests provide an opportunity for clinicians to learn about patients' values and preferences and to maintain clinical acumen for changes in patient status with the patients' best interests in mind.

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