Functional neuroimaging and withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from vegetative patients

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Abstract

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 It is sometimes assumed that if there is evidence of consciousness, treatment should not be withdrawn.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. Copyright ? 2009 by the BMJ Publishing Group Ltd & Institute of Medical Ethics.

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Wilkinson, D. J., Kahane, G., Horne, G. K., & Savulescu, J. (2009). Functional neuroimaging and withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from vegetative patients. Journal of Medical Ethics, 35(8), 508–511. https://doi.org/10.1136/jme.2008.029165

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