Organismal Superposition Problem and Nihilist Challenge in the Definition of Death

Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 67 (1):1-21 (2024)
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Abstract

ABSTRACT:According to the mainstream bioethical stance, death constitutes the termination of an organism. This essay argues that such an understanding of death is inappropriate in the usual context of determining death, since it also has a social bearing. There are two reasons to justify this argument. First, the mainstream bioethical definition generates an organismal superposition challenge, according to which a given patient in a single physiological state might be both alive and dead, like Schrödinger's cat. Therefore, there is no clear answer as to whether organ retrieval from a brain-dead patient is an act of killing or not. Second, when combined with the dead donor rule, the mainstream position in the definition of death might lead to ethically unacceptable verdicts, since there is a discrepancy between terminating an organism and depriving someone of moral status.

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