An Assessment Of Brain Death As A Means Of Procuring Transplantable Organs

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Since its inception in 1968, brain death, as a criterion for human death, has enjoyed the status of one of the few relatively “well settled” issues in bioethics. Indeed, its almost universal acceptance in law and medical practice seems to confirm this depiction. However, over the last fifteen years or so, a growing number of experts in medicine, philosophy, and religion regard brain death as an untenable criterion for human death. Given that the debate about brain death has occupied a relatively small group of professionals, few are aware that brain death fails to correspond to any coherent biological or philosophical conception of death. This is significant, for if the brain-dead are not dead, then the removal of their unpaired vital organs for transplantation is the direct cause of their deaths. The purpose of this paper is to relate the historical, biological, and philosophical underpinnings for brain death. After assessing the components of its conceptual foundation, I argue that brain death is fundamentally flawed and ought to be rejected as a criterion for death.

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Dr. D. Scott Henderson

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Franciscan University of Steubenville
Philosophy Department