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The Ethical Dilemma Presented By Persistent Coma

When a patient has not suffered brain death (the complete absence of any electrical activity within the brain) but has been in a deep coma for some time, a change in condition may occur. This condition is called a persistent vegetative state. The patient may open his or her eyes and move his or her limbs in a primitive fashion, demonstrating some degree of arousal. However, the patient lacks any element of awareness and is unable to have any measurably meaningful interactions with the surrounding world. This condition may last for years. The care of these patients has sparked some of the most heated debates within the field of medical ethics. The discovery of medical advances that allow various disease states to be arrested, without restoration of lost brain function, and the fact that medical resources are limited, have led to debates regarding when medical help should be withdrawn from an individual who has no hope of recovery.



Guberman, Alan. An Introduction to Clinical Neurology. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.

Isselbacher, Kurt J., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.

Liebman, Michael. Neuroanatomy Made Easy and Understandable. Baltimore: University Park Press, 1991.

Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt


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—Related to the physical structure of an organ or organism.


—Referring to a system of values that provides the criteria for right behavior.


—Related to the chemical processes of an organ or organism.


—The cells within the body that make up the nervous system.


—Pertaining to the functioning of an organ, as governed by its physical and chemical condition.


—Pertaining to the mind and its mental processes.


—An action performed on an individual that predictably provokes a reaction.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cluster compound to ConcupiscenceComa - Consciousness, Causes Of Coma, Outcome, Glasgow Coma Scale, The Ethical Dilemma Presented By Persistent Coma