Re-examining death: against a higher brain criterion

Journal of Medical Ethics 25 (6):473-476 (1999)
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Abstract

While there is increasing pressure on scarce health care resources, advances in medical science have blurred the boundary between life and death. Individuals can survive for decades without consciousness and individuals whose whole brains are dead can be supported for extended periods. One suggested response is to redefine death, justifying a higher brain criterion for death. This argument fails because it conflates two distinct notions about the demise of human beings--the one, biological and the other, ontological. Death is a biological phenomenon. This view entails the rejection of a higher brain criterion of death. Moreover, I claim that the justification of the whole brain (or brain stem) criterion of death is also cast into doubt by these advances in medical science. I proceed to argue that there is no need to redefine death in order to identify which treatments ought to be provided for the permanently and irreversibly unconscious. There are already clear treatment guidelines

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