Brain Death: A Durable Consensus?
Bioethics. 1993 Apr; 7(2/3): 239-246.
Is it even conceivable that this global consensus [on the whole-brain definition of death] could, in time, be regarded as a very temporary and makeshift expedient, a momentary substitute for a resolution of some profoundly difficult issues which for a time, perhaps a brief time, fit with both the technical capacities and the legal needs of those who endorsed it? And that in the long run it could linger as a footnote, or perhaps a chapter heading, in the long history of man's conceptions of life and death? This suggestion is so far from conventional wisdom today that one who espouses it risks being regarded as a crank. Nevertheless, I believe that the argument in its favor, while not conclusive, is much stronger than the argument against it (and in favor of the prevailing consensus). I will state the argument briefly, with particular reference to the landmark report in 1982 in Washington of the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine, and will situate the argument in the context of trends in contemporary bioethics. I do not expect to win over, in this one pass, those who have been convinced of the validity of the conventional view. I do hope, however, to re-open the issue; in particular, to provide reasons to regard the issue as far from settled.
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