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Research on Equity in Disorders of Consciousness Care

Jun 13, 2024

Curing Coma Campaign Ethics Working Group outlines equity considerations for care of DoC

Significant disparities exist in the care of individuals with disorders of consciousness (DoC). In a recent article, The Curing Coma Campaign Ethics Working Group, including CNTR faculty members, has highlighted 9 research domains  to improve the equity in the care of those with DoC. 


People with disorders of consciousness (DoC) are characteristically unable to synchronously participate in decision-making about clinical care or research. The inability to self-advocate exacerbates preexisting socioeconomic and geographic disparities, which include the wide variability observed across individuals, hospitals, and countries in access to acute care, expertise, and sophisticated diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic interventions. Concerns about equity for people with DoC are particularly notable when they lack a surrogate decision-maker (legally referred to as "unrepresented" or "unbefriended"). Decisions about both short-term and long-term life-sustaining treatment typically rely on neuroprognostication and individual patient preferences that carry additional ethical considerations for people with DoC, as even individuals with well thought out advance directives cannot anticipate every possible situation to guide such decisions. Further challenges exist with the inclusion of people with DoC in research because consent must be completed (in most circumstances) through a surrogate, which excludes those who are unrepresented and may discourage investigators from exploring questions related to this population. In this article, the Curing Coma Campaign Ethics Working Group reviews equity considerations in clinical care and research involving persons with DoC in the following domains: (1) access to acute care and expertise, (2) access to diagnostics and therapeutics, (3) neuroprognostication, (4) medical decision-making for unrepresented people, (5) end-of-life decision-making, (6) access to postacute rehabilitative care, (7) access to research, (8) inclusion of unrepresented people in research, and (9) remuneration and reciprocity for research participation. The goal of this discussion is to advance equitable, harmonized, guideline-directed, and goal-concordant care for people with DoC of all backgrounds worldwide, prioritizing the ethical standards of respect for autonomy, beneficence, and justice. Although the focus of this evaluation is on people with DoC, much of the discussion can be extrapolated to other critically ill persons worldwide.

To read more about the study, please follow this link.

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