Stanford Center for
Biomedical Ethics

Public Understanding of Neuroscience and the Terri Schiavo Case

FUNDER: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
NIH/NINDS (RO1 #NS 045831, Judy Illes, P.I.)

DATES: 01/01/06-06/01/06

Postdoctoral Fellow: Eric Racine, PhD
Director, Program in Neuroethics: Judy Illes, PhD

The highly-publicized Schiavo case has brought topics in end-of-life decision-making in severe neurological conditions to the forefront of the public discussion, and has gained wide attention among bioethicists and the neuroscience community. Given the persistent vegetative state (PVS) in which Terri Schiavo was, many aspects of the case that were critical to the ethical discussion (e.g., the establishment of the prognosis and outcome) were intertwined with the public understanding of neurological terminology (e.g., coma, persistent vegetative state, minimal consciousness, brain damage). This study will examine: 1) National and regional U.S. press coverage of the Terri Schiavo case as well as, 2) Reader reactions to gain further insight into public understanding of neurological conditions and the impact of public understanding on end-of-life decisions.

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