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James L. Bernat, MD

Active Emeritus Professor of Neurology
Active Emeritus Professor of Medicine


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, and The Hastings Center. He is a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. In 2011, he received the Presidential Award from the American Academy of Neurology for lifetime service to American neurology.

Dr. Bernat's scholarly interests are in ethical and philosophical issues in neurology. He has authored over 250 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), and coeditor of Ethical and Legal Issues in Neurology (Elsevier, 2013) 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 and served on the World Health Organization international committee on standards for death determination.

Selected Publications:


Restoring Activity of Pig Brain Cells After Death Does not Invalidate the Determination of Death by Neurologic Criteria or Undermine the Propriety of Organ Donation After Death.
Bernat JL, Delmonico FL
Transplantation. 2019 Jul;103(7):1295-1297. doi: 10.1097/TP.0000000000002782.
PMID: 31107825

The ethical obligation of the dead donor rule.
Dalle Ave AL, Sulmasy DP, Bernat JL
Med Health Care Philos. 2019 May 13; doi: 10.1007/s11019-019-09904-8. Epub 2019 May 13.
PMID: 31087205

Author response: Ethical, palliative, and policy considerations in disorders of consciousness.
Fins JJ, Bernat JL
Neurology. 2019 May 14;92(20):974. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000007519.
PMID: 31085728

Palliative care and inpatient neurology: Where to next?
Kluger BM, Bernat JL
Neurology. 2019 Apr 23;92(17):784-785. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000007354. Epub 2019 Mar 27.
PMID: 30918099

Strategies to improve uniformity in brain death determination.
Bernat JL, Brust JCM
Neurology. 2019 Feb 26;92(9):401-402. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006994. Epub 2019 Jan 25.
PMID: 30804052

A Conceptual Justification for Brain Death.
Bernat JL
Hastings Cent Rep. 2018 Nov;48 Suppl 4:S19-S21. doi: 10.1002/hast.946.
PMID: 30584866

Conceptual Issues in DCDD Donor Death Determination.
Bernat JL
Hastings Cent Rep. 2018 Nov;48 Suppl 4:S26-S28. doi: 10.1002/hast.948.
PMID: 30584853

Author Response: Practice Current: When do you order ancillary tests to determine brain death?
Robbins NM, Bernat JL
Neurol Clin Pract. 2018 Oct;8(5):364. doi: 10.1212/CPJ.0000000000000539.
PMID: 30564478

Ethics in Neurology.
Lewis A, Bernat JL
Semin Neurol. 2018 Oct;38(5):495-496. doi: 10.1055/s-0038-1673410. Epub 2018 Oct 15.
PMID: 30321886

Author response: An interdisciplinary response to contemporary concerns about brain death determination.
Lewis A, Bernat JL, Blosser S, Bonnie RJ, Epstein LG, Hutchins J, Kirschen MP, Rubin M, Russell JA, Sattin JA, Wijdicks EFM, Greer DM
Neurology. 2018 Sep 11;91(11):536-538. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006154.
PMID: 30201752

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