J Med Ethics 30:359-361 doi:10.1136/jme.2002.002667
  • End of life

Medical ethics, logic traps, and game theory: an illustrative tale of brain death

  1. J E Riggs
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J E Riggs
 Department of Neurology, PO Box 9180, West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, Morgantown, WV 26506-9180, USA;
  • Accepted 28 February 2003
  • Revised 15 February 2003


Decision making and choices are frequent themes in medical ethics. Game theory is based upon modelled decision making. Game theory, and associated logic traps, may have relevance to the clinical practice of medicine and medical ethics. The “prisoner’s dilemma” is one logic trap from game theory in which “rational” decision making on the part of participating individuals can lead to “suboptimal” situations. An example of such a situation involving brain death is presented and discussed from the perspective of the prisoner’s dilemma.