Memory During the Presumed Vegetative State: Implications for Patient Quality of Life

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 29 (4):501-510 (2020)
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A growing number of studies show that a significant proportion of patients, who meet the clinical criteria for the diagnosis of the vegetative state, demonstrate evidence of covert awareness through successful performance of neuroimaging tasks. Despite these important advances, the day-to-day life experiences of any such patient remain unknown. This presents a major challenge for optimizing the patient’s standard of care and quality of life. We describe a patient who, following emergence from a state of complete behavioral unresponsiveness and a clinical diagnosis of VS, reported rich memories of his experience during this time. This case demonstrates the potential for a sophisticated mental life enabled by preserved memory in a proportion of patients who, similarly, are thought to be unconscious. Therefore, it presents an important opportunity to examine the implications for patient QoL and standard of care, both during the period of presumed unconsciousness and after recovery.



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Author Profiles

Mackenzie Graham
Oxford University
Nicola Taylor Brown
University of Wolverhampton

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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.John Locke - 1979 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 169 (2):221-222.
Brain Damage and the Moral Significance of Consciousness.Julian Savulescu - 2009 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 34 (1):6-26.

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