The Incoherence of Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: A Commentary on "Controversies in the Determination of Death", a White Paper by the President's Council on Bioethics
Miller, Franklin G.
Truog, Robert D.
Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 2009 June; 19(2): 185-193
Traditionally the cessation of breathing and heart beat has marked the passage from life to death. Shortly after death was determined, the body became a cold corpse, suitable for burial or cremation. Two technological changes in the second half of the twentieth century prompted calls for a new, or at least expanded, definition of death: the development of intensive care medicine, especially the use of mechanical ventilators, and the advent of successful transplantation of vital organs. Patients with profound neurological damage, leaving them incapable of breathing on their own and in an irreversible coma, could be maintained for some period of time with the aid of mechanical ventilation. The situation of these patients posed two ethical questions. Is it appropriate to stop life-sustaining treatment? If so, is it acceptable to retrieve vital organs for transplantation to save the lives of others before stopping treatment? In 1968, the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to Examine the Definition of Brain Death proposed that death could be determined on the basis of neurological criteria, thus providing a positive answer to these two questions (Ad Hoc Committee 1968). According to the position of this committee, patients diagnosed with the cessation of brain function are dead, despite the fact that they breathe and circulate blood with the aid of mechanical ventilation.
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Miller, Franklin G.; Truog, Robert D. (2009-12)Human life and death should be defined biologically. It is important not to conflate the definition of death with the criteria for when it has occurred. What is distinctively "human" from a scientific or normative perspective ...