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Disorders of Consciousness: Is a Dichotomous Legal Approach Justified?

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Advances made in medical care mean that many critically ill patients with an acquired brain injury may survive with a disorder of consciousness. This may be in the form of a vegetative state (VS) or a minimally conscious state (MCS). Medically, there is a growing tendency to view these conditions as occupying the same clinical spectrum rather than be considered as discrete entities. In other words, their difference is now understood as one of degree rather than kind. However, is English law keeping pace with this development in medical knowledge? This article seeks to highlight the duality that exists in the legal decision-making process in England and Wales, and question the justifiability and sustainability of this dichotomous approach in the light of medicine’s current understanding on disorders of consciousness.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Specialist in Acute Medicine, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust CumbriaUK ; 2: Associate Professor of Medical Law & Ethics, University of Central Lancashire PrestonUK


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