Patients with Glasgow Coma Scale scores 3, 4, 5 after gunshot wounds to the brain

Neurosurg Clin N Am. 1995 Oct;6(4):701-14.


Even this information is only partial. To study fully the effects of treatment would require optimal care at all points from time of injury, including rapid prehospital resuscitation, rapid transport to an optimally equipped and staffed hospital, immediate evaluation and treatment of the initial injury and all complications, rapid and comprehensive rehabilitation, and supportive and flexible home and work settings for the patient on discharge. Patients would need to be stratified for premorbid characteristics, including intelligence, personal traits, and training. Prolonged follow-up, possibly for several years, would be required to determine true outcome. No current study contains sufficient numbers of patients treated optimally and studied for prolonged periods, but this should be done. One way of looking at such patients is to decide that many should be treated to salvage a few. The other way of looking at them is that so many must receive care, at great emotional and economic cost to themselves and others, that such treatment is inappropriate for any of them. Treating all such patients would be a major undertaking. If most of these patients were treated vigorously, a great proportion of them would still die but probably not for a number of days. During this period, their families would be under extreme stress. Once stabilized and receiving ongoing care, some patients would enter a permanent vegetative state and survive for prolonged periods until their prognosis was clear and care was withdrawn, again causing family stress as well as high cost. Some would likely survive although impaired. The charges and real costs of care for all these patients would be tremendous. The question therefore arises as to how to decide what to do about caring for a large group of patients whose maximal care would be costly in emotional and financial terms, particularly at a time when it is recognized that resources for medical care are going to be limited. When discussing such patients as a group with a view toward developing practice guidelines, many considerations must be brought to bear. One consideration is the certainty of the prognosis in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense in an individual case. It is not clear that one can be certain in patients except when there are overwhelmingly unfavorable features. As has been noted, even patients who have been shot through the geographic center of the brain and are posturing can make excellent recoveries. This would push toward aggressive treatment for many patients. Decision making must therefore be considered in terms of bioethics. The major principle-based systems of bioethics are deontologic, arising from accepted principles, and utilitarian, arising from effect on outcome. A virtue-based ethic for physicians arising from "the caring bond and the public trust" is being revived as a balance to analytical ethics. A similar orientation from the point of view of patients is communitarian ethics, that is asking for only what is reasonable and not so much as might harm others. Some of the issues to be considered include the sanctity of life while taking into account the criteria for life--vegetative function versus some level of mental function. One must also review each decision from the viewpoints of all the parties involved--patients, family and friends, physicians, and society--in the context of a heterogeneous society in which individual rights and tolerance enforced by law are primary features. In the patients' terms, there is a desire and right to medical care to maintain a healthy productive life. Even if impaired to some extent, patients may still have an interest in living. Balancing benefits and burdens of life is a complex problem. There is also the right, based on patients' values, to refuse care if there is the wish not to take a chance of having a significantly compromised existence. Such declaration before injury should be honored...

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / therapy
  • Glasgow Coma Scale*
  • Humans
  • Prognosis
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wounds, Gunshot / physiopathology*
  • Wounds, Gunshot / therapy