The brain and somatic integration: Insights into the standard biological rationale for equating brain death with death

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 26 (5):457 – 478 (2001)
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Abstract

The mainstream rationale for equating brain death (BD) with death is that the brain confers integrative unity upon the body, transforming it from a mere collection of organs and tissues to an organism as a whole. In support of this conclusion, the impressive list of the brains myriad integrative functions is often cited. Upon closer examination, and after operational definition of terms, however, one discovers that most integrative functions of the brain are actually not somatically integrating, and, conversely, most integrative functions of the body are not brain-mediated. With respect to organism-level vitality, the brains role is more modulatory than constitutive, enhancing the quality and survival potential of a presupposedly living organism. Integrative unity of a complex organism is an inherently nonlocalizable, holistic feature involving the mutual interaction among all the parts, not a top-down coordination imposed by one part upon a passive multiplicity of other parts. Loss of somatic integrative unity is not a physiologically tenable rationale for equating BD with death of the organism as a whole.

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