Death in the Eyes of the Beholder

S Fry-Revere, B Bastani


The US Uniform Determination of Death Act provides two alternatives for determining death—the circulatory criteria and the neurological criteria—yet history and the public’s current understanding of death in the US may mean that only brain death criteria can be relied upon without raising public suspicion that the medical profession is sacrificing the well-being of one group of patients (i.e., those dying after traumatic injury) to save another group (i.e., those in need of organs). The problem is exacerbated by existing debate on the appropriate waiting time after which death is inevitable and when the brain should be actually considered dead through prolonged absence of autoresuscitation. Given the difficulty of definitive determination of the time when brain function has ceased, two solutions are proposed: abandon the Dead Donor Rule or redefine death. Implementing the former would mean convincing the public to accept organ harvesting before the dying patient is completely brain dead through the writing of advance directives to permit organ harvest when death is inevitable though not confirmed. For the latter, reeducation would be necessary to persuade the public to accept the circulatory criteria for death as an independent determinant for death or the medical community would need to reconsider if the cessation of higher brain function is enough to be the basis for determining death. In conclusion, organ retrieval policies, no matter how medically sound, should seek to avoid the possibility of a public backlash that could result in fewer organs available for transplant.


Tissue and organ procurement; Death; Brain death; Electroencephalography; Organ transplantation

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 pISSN: 2008-6482
 eISSN: 2008-6490


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