Loss of faith in brain death: Catholic controversy over the determination of death by neurological criteria

Clinical Ethics 7 (3):133-141 (2012)

Abstract

The diagnosis of death by neurological criteria (colloquially known as ‘brain death’) is accepted in some form in law and medical practice throughout the world, and has been endorsed in principle by the Catholic Church. However, the rationale for this acceptance has been challenged by the accumulation of evidence of integrated vital activity in bodies diagnosed dead by neurological criteria. This paper sets out 10 different Catholic responses to the current crisis of confidence and assesses them in relation to a Catholic understanding of philosophical anthropology. Having considered each of these responses, none is found to provide good grounds for the moral certainty about death needed for current transplant practice to be ethically acceptable. Unless adequate grounds for the use of neurological criteria can be restored, current transplantation practice will have become what Pope John Paul II called a ‘furtive, but no less serious and real, form of euthanasia’

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David Albert Jones
Anscombe Bioethics Centre

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