Ethical Controversies at End of Life After Traumatic Brain Injury: Defining Death and Organ Donation
Van Norman, Gail
Critical care medicine 2010 Sep; 38(9 Suppl): S502-9
Death is more than a mere biological occurrence. It has important legal, medical, and social ramifications that make it imperative that those who are responsible for determination of death be accurate and above suspicion. The medical and legal definitions of death have evolved to include consideration of such concepts as loss of integration of the whole organism, loss of autonomy, and loss of personhood. Development of the concept of brain death coincided with advances in medical technology that facilitated artificial ventilation and organ transplantation. More recently, the process of "timed" death with subsequent organ donation (controlled donation after cardiac death transplantation) has raised controversial questions having to do with the limits of treatments that facilitate organ transplant but might hasten death, and the duration of cardiac arrest necessary for declaration of death and the commencement of organ procurement. In this review, we discuss the background and ethical ramifications of the concepts of brain death, and of controversies involved in controlled donation after cardiac death organ transplantation.
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