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James L. Bernat Recognized for His Contributions to the Field of Neuroethics

Geisel Professor Emeritus James L. Bernat, MD, is the 2022 recipient of the Steven E., Hyman Award for Distinguished Service to the Field of Neuroethics, the highest prize awarded by the International Neuroethics Society (INS). The award recognizes those who have helped develop the field of neuroethics; it was presented to Bernat this month during INS’s annual meeting in Montreal. 

James Bernat
James L. Bernat, MD

Neuroethics is an interdisciplinary field focusing on the ethical, legal, policy, and societal implications raised by the increased, and constantly improving, understanding of neuroscience and our ability to monitor and influence it. 

Bernat, a neurologist and clinical ethicist, has been a Geisel faculty member since 1976, becoming a professor of medicine and neurology in 1989, and is the former Louis and Ruth Frank Professor of Neuroscience. He was the director of the Program in Clinical Ethics at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and previously served as assistant dean of Clinical Education at the medical school. He became professor of neurology, active emeritus in 2017. 

“Naturally, I was delighted to have my lifetime scholarly work on the ethical issues of neurology recognized with this award,” Bernat says. “While the International Neuroethics Society was founded to address the ethical issues in neuroscience research, awarding me this honor confirms that they equally value clinical neuroethics.” 

Bernat served on American Academy of Neurology Ethics, Law & and Humanities Committee for 28 years, with 10 years as chairman. He has been elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha, along with fellowship 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.

He has authored more than 300 articles and chapters on a wide range of neurology and clinical ethics issues — from brain death, physician-assisted suicide, medical futility, and end-of-life care, to informed consent and the ethical and legal duties of a neurologist—and 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 co-editor of Death Determination by Neurologic Criteria: Areas of Consensus and Controversy (Springer Nature, 2022).  

Bernat has 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 U.S. 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. He chairs the Neuroethics Specialty Group of the World Federation of Neurology.