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'This in-between': how families talk about death in relation to severe brain injury and disorders of consciousness

Kitzinger, Celia and Kitzinger, Jenny ORCID: 2014. 'This in-between': how families talk about death in relation to severe brain injury and disorders of consciousness. Van Brussel, Leen and Carpentier, Nico, eds. The Social Construction of Death : Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 239-258. (10.1057/9781137391919_13)

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These comments encapsulate some common themes in how people describe having a severely brain-injured relative in a coma-like condition, medically known as a ‘disorder of consciousness’. In the past it was highly unusual for such individuals to survive very long after the initial trauma that caused their injury. However, the emergence of modern medical technologies, and how they are deployed, has led to the creation of new long-term conditions including the ‘vegetative state’ (in which the patient shows no awareness at all) and the ‘minimally conscious state’ (in which the the patient displays some intermittent and minimal awareness). These conditions are modern phenomena — the vegetative diagnostic category was first created in the early 1970s (Jennett and Plum, 1972) and the ‘minimally conscious state’ [MCS] was only defined in 2002 (Giacino et al., 2002). Patients with disorders of consciousness disrupt previous ways of understanding life. The family may experience their vegetative or minimally conscious relative as ‘present but absent’, ‘living, but dead’, making comments such as ‘this is no life’ and ‘my son is gone’ — and experiencing a sense of loss and grief that may be ‘like a death’, although not a death.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Additional Information: This Chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN: 9781137391902
Funders: ESRC and Wellcome Trust
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Date of Acceptance: 2013
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2022 08:25

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