When do we lose our human life?

Bioedge

Xavier Symons

The academic conversation over brain death continues, with the American journal of Bioethics publishing a special issue on the status of death determined by neurological criteria (DDNC).

The issue contains 20 articles offering different perspectives brain death. Most of the papers refer a recent legal battle in Texas over Marlise Munoz, a brain dead woman carrying a second trimester foetus.

The papers are highly technical and difficult to summarize in a short post. There are, however, a number of clear themes:

– The academics argue over the philosophical definition of death: is it the cessation of mental processes, the end of what is know as the ‘organism as a whole’, or the end of functions such as respiration, metabolism, and growth?

– They consider whether it is problematic to have a legal definition of death distinct from a ‘real’ (i.e. philosophically justifiable) conception of death.

– They discuss the need for educating medical practitioners and the general public about the legal definition of brain death.

Bioethicist Thaddeus M. Pope says the issue is particularly timely as we may see a number of legislative debates about brain death in the near future.


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