Late recovery from the minimally conscious state: Ethical and policy implications
Persistent Vegetative State
Recovery of Function
We consider the ethical and public policy implications of late recovery from the minimally conscious state in light of an Institute of Medicine exploratory meeting convened to discuss current knowledge about disorders of consciousness as well as a recently published study demonstrating axonal regrowth in a patient two decades after traumatic injury. Participants at the meeting (which included the authors) described a lack of research initiatives for basic investigations of patients in these states, the frequent warehousing of patients following a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state that limits their access to appropriate neurologic and diagnostic tests, and the breadth of public confusion about disorders of consciousness. Meeting participants encouraged the Institute to pursue a more formal study to outline both the need for research and the unique opportunities to study consciousness, now available through the use of neuroimaging and related technologies. Areas of initial focus would be to define the epidemiology of the minimally conscious state, elucidate mechanisms of recovery, and identify clinically useful diagnostic and prognostic markers that will aid decision making at the bedside.