Article Text

Download PDFPDF
The Persistent Vegetative State: Conscious of Nothing?
  1. Adam Zeman
  1. Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Edinburgh, UK; Email: az{at}


The persistent vegetative state (PVS) was described in the Lancet exactly 30 years ago by Bryan Jennett, a neurosurgeon, and the neurologist Fred Plum (Jennett & Plum 1972). Jennett has recently reviewed the subject (Jennett 2002). Sometimes described as a condition of wakefulness without awareness, it can follow a range of severe insults to the brain. Often misdiagnosed, frequently misunderstood, the syndrome provides a useful shorthand for a diverse but distinctive set of clinical phenomena. Although it has withstood the scrutiny of ethicists and lawyers, it assumes a concept of awareness that may not stand the test of time. In this article I will sketch its key features and end by asking how confident we can really be that a patient in the PVS is wakeful, but conscious of nothing.

Many of us will remember our first encounter with a patient in the vegetative state (VS), as the condition is

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.