Death in Denmark
Journal of Medical Ethics. 1990 Dec; 16(4): 191-194.
Does it matter that the hearts of 'brainstem dead' patients may persist in beating spontaneously? Hostile reactions, to the Danish inclusion of cardiacc criteria in the determination of death, betray reductionist views of human life at the core of 'brainstem' conceptions of death. Such views (whether centred on neurological function or on abstractions concernings 'personhood') supplant the richness of human life and death with the poverty of essentialism: and mask the lethal nature of beating-heart organ retrieval. The affirmation of cardiac criteria for death is not an alternative form of essentialism as some critics suppose, but part of an understanding of human life and death which rejects essentialism altogether. The spontaneously persistent heartbeat does not constitute human life, but most certainly counts for it.