Neurology often involves making hard decisions about things that normally seem merely philosophical. What does it mean to be conscious? For that matter, what does it even mean to be alive?
These questions become all important in conversations involving people in coma or vegetative states. Brain death is another notoriously controversial topic, but one that is horribly relevant to many people whose loved one lies unresponsive in a hospital bed. What are the chances that someone will wake up? Is this the right time to consider something like organ donation?
Certain medical illnesses make us painfully conscious of what it is to be conscious. No matter our personal beliefs, it is important to have an understanding of the medical terminology and science surrounding these intensely emotional and personal events. In this way, we can better assure ourselves that we have made both the most compassionate and informed decision we could for someone who was unable to make such a vital decision for themselves.