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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
1 Medical Center Drive
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
Lebanon NH 03756

Office: Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
Phone: 603-650-6114
Fax: 603-650-6233
Email: bernat@dartmouth.edu

Assistant: Colleen Meeker
Asst. Phone: 603-650-6114
Asst. Email: colleen.meeker@hitchcock.org

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. Co-Director: Research Design, Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Clinical Research Ethics


James L. Bernat, M.D., 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 is 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 200 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) and coeditor of Palliative Care in Neurology (Oxford University Press, 2004.) 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 serves on the World Health Organization international committee on standards for death determination.

Selected Publications:


  • James L. Bernat. Ethical Issues in Neurology, 3rd ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008.

  • Raymond Voltz, James L. Bernat, et al. (eds) Palliative Care in Neurology. Oxford Univeristy Press, 2004.

  • Bernat JL, Beresford HR (eds) Ethical and Legal Issues in Neurology. Handbook of Clinical Neurology vol. 118. Elsevier, 2013

  • Bernat JL. The boundaries of organ donation after circulatory death. N Engl J Med 2008;359:669-671.

  • Bernat JL. On noncongruence between the concept and determination of death. Hastings Center Report 2013; 43(6): 25-33.

  • Bernat JL, et al The circulatory-respiratory determination of death in organ donation. Crit Care Med 2010;38:963-970

  • Bernat JL How the distinction between between “irreversible” and “permanent” illuminates circulatory-respiratory death determination. J Med Philosophy 2010;35(3):242-255

  • Bernat JL, et al. Circulatory death determination in uncontrolled organ donors: a panel viewpoint. Ann Emerg Med 2014; 63:384-390.

  • Bernat JL Life or death for the dead-donor rule? N Engl J Med 2013; 369:1289-1291.

  • Bernat JL Whither brain death? Am J Bioethics 2014; 14(8): 3-8.