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Ethical issues in neurology 

Ethical issues in neurology
Ethical issues in neurology

Jan J. Heimans

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date: 21 April 2021

Neurologic diseases may lead to brain dysfunction and consequently to impairment of consciousness, cognitive decline, and emotional disturbances. These conditions may give rise to a wide array of ethical issues. Cerebral dysfunction can be temporary but many conditions are chronic and/or progressive, and the impact of such long-lasting brain dysfunction on decision-making processes is substantial. In this chapter, disturbances of consciousness and the decision-making process, with focus on communication during the various stages of coma, persistent vegetative state, and permanent vegetative state, are discussed. Special attention is paid to the role of proxies, who often have to act as surrogate decision-makers. Further, some aspects of brain death and organ donation are reviewed and the role of the neurologist as a specialist with respect to brain functioning, but also as an advocate acting in the interest of the patient and the patients’ relatives is depicted. Subsequently, consequences of impaired decision-making capacity in dementia and other diseases leading to diminished cognitive functioning are discussed and a short reflection is dedicated to driving ability. Ultimately, ethical issues in connection with decisions on withdrawing and withholding life-sustaining treatment including end-of-life decisions are discussed, both in neurologic diseases with diminished cognitive functioning but also in neurologic disorders, like motor neuron disease, where cognitive functions are preserved.

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