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James L. Bernat, MD

Emeritus Professor of Neurology


Cornell University Medical College, MD 1973
University of Massachusetts, BA 1969



Contact Information

Neurology Department
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
1 Rope Ferry Road
Hanover NH 03755

Phone: 802-649-1346
Email: bernat@dartmouth.edu

Professional Interests

Brain death and the definition of death.
Coma, vegetative states, and other disorder of consciousness.
Ethical and philosophical issues in neurology.

Grant Information

SYNERGY: Dartmouth Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Director: Research Ethics


James L. Bernat, M.D., formerly the Louis and Ruth Frank Professor of Neuroscience at Dartmouth Medical School, earned a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts (1965-69) and an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College (1969-73). He trained in internal medicine and neurology at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (1973-77). Dr. Bernat has been a Dartmouth Medical School faculty member since 1976 and has held the rank of Professor of Medicine and Neurology since 1989. Dr. Bernat was the Director of the Program in Clinical Ethics at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Previously he served as Assistant Dean of Clinical Education at Dartmouth Medical School. He served for 28 years on the American Academy of Neurology Ethics, Law & and Humanities Committee, with 10 years as chairman. Dr. Bernat has been elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Omega Alpha, and fellowships in the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, and The Hastings Center. In 2011, he received the Presidential Award from the American Academy of Neurology for lifetime service to American neurology. In 2022, he received the Steven E. Hyman Award for Distinguished Service to the Field of Neuroethics from the International Neuroethics Society.

Dr. Bernat's scholarly interests are in ethical and philosophical issues in neurology. He has authored over 300 articles and chapters on topics in neurology and clinical ethics. He is the author of Ethical Issues in Neurology, 3rd ed. (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008), coeditor of Palliative Care in Neurology (Oxford University Press, 2004), coeditor of Ethical and Legal Issues in Neurology (Elsevier, 2013), and coeditor of Death Determination by Neurologic Criteria: Areas of Controversy and Consensus (Springer, 2022). He testified on the vegetative state before the United States Senate Health Committee and was a consultant on brain death to the Institute of Medicine, the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and the Pontifical Academy for Life. He chaired the US DHHS HRSA Division of Transplantation panel on determining death in organ donors, served on the World Health Organization international committee on standards for death determination, and cochaired the 2023 NIH Conference on Circulatory Death Determination.

Selected Publications


The Unified Brain-Based Determination of Death Conceptually Justifies Death Determination in DCDD and NRP Protocols.
Bernat JL
Am J Bioeth. 2024 Jun;24(6):4-15. doi: 10.1080/15265161.2024.2337392. Epub 2024 Jun 3.
PMID: 38829591

Neither Ethical nor Prudent: Why Not to Choose Normothermic Regional Perfusion.
Omelianchuk A, Capron AM, Ross LF, Derse AR, Bernat JL, Magnus D
Hastings Cent Rep. 2024 May 20; doi: 10.1002/hast.1584. Epub 2024 May 20.
PMID: 38768312

Advancing the Scientific Basis for Determining Death in Controlled Organ Donation After Circulatory Determination of Death.
Murphy NB, Shemie SD, Capron A, Truog RD, Nakagawa T, Healey A, Gofton T, Bernat JL, Fenton K, Khush KK, Schwartz B, Wall SP
Transplantation. 2024 Apr 19; doi: 10.1097/TP.0000000000005002. Epub 2024 Apr 19.
PMID: 38637919

Research opportunities and ethical considerations for heart and lung xenotransplantation research: A report from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute workshop.
Khush KK, Bernat JL, Pierson RN 3rd, Silverman HJ, Parent B, Glazier AK, Adams AB, Fishman JA, Gusmano M, Hawthorne WJ, Homan ME, Hurst DJ, Latham S, Park CG, Maschke KJ, Mohiuddin MM, Montgomery RA, Odim J, Pentz RD, Reichart B, Savulescu J, Wolpe PR, Wong RP, Fenton KN
Am J Transplant. 2024 Jun;24(6):918-927. doi: 10.1016/j.ajt.2024.03.015. Epub 2024 Mar 19.
PMID: 38514013

Knowledge gaps in heart and lung donation after the circulatory determination of death: Report of a workshop of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Bernat JL, Khush KK, Shemie SD, Hartwig MG, Reese PP, Dalle Ave A, Parent B, Glazier AK, Capron AM, Craig M, Gofton T, Gordon EJ, Healey A, Homan ME, Ladin K, Messer S, Murphy N, Nakagawa TA, Parker WF, Pentz RD, Rodriguez-Arias D, Schwartz B, Sulmasy DP, Truog RD, Wall AE, Wall SP, Wolpe PR, Fenton KN
J Heart Lung Transplant. 2024 Jun;43(6):1021-1029. doi: 10.1016/j.healun.2024.02.1455. Epub 2024 Mar 2.
PMID: 38432523

The Uniform Law Commission and the Conceptual Basis for Brain Death: The UDDA Revision Series.
Bernat JL
Neurology. 2024 Mar 26;102(6):e209157. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000209157. Epub 2024 Feb 26.
PMID: 38408292

Taking the pulse of brain death: A meta-analysis of the natural history of brain death with somatic support.
Gambardella I, Nappi F, Worku B, Tranbaugh RF, Ibrahim AM, Balaram SK, Bernat JL
Eur J Neurol. 2024 May;31(5):e16243. doi: 10.1111/ene.16243. Epub 2024 Feb 20.
PMID: 38375732

Ethical issues of nosology in disorders of consciousness.
Robbins NM, Bernat JL
NeuroRehabilitation. 2024;54(1):3-9. doi: 10.3233/NRE-230120.
PMID: 38277312

The Brainstem Criterion of Death and Accurate Syndromic Diagnosis.
Bernat JL
Am J Bioeth. 2024 Jan;24(1):100-103. doi: 10.1080/15265161.2023.2278554. Epub 2024 Jan 18.
PMID: 38236869

Author Response: Challenges to Brain Death in Revising the Uniform Determination of Death Act: The UDDA Revision Series.
Bernat JL
Neurology. 2024 Jan 9;102(1):e208045. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000208045. Epub 2023 Dec 13.
PMID: 38165387

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