J Med Ethics 39:153-157 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100951
  • Elective ventilation
  • Paper

Elective ventilation and the politics of death

  1. Nathan Emmerich
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nathan Emmerich, Visiting Research Fellow, School of Politics, International Politics and Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK; nemmerich01{at}
  • Received 12 July 2012
  • Revised 10 October 2012
  • Accepted 18 October 2012
  • Published Online First 10 November 2012


This essay comments on the British Medical Association's recent suggestion that protocols for Elective Ventilation (EV) might be revived in order to increase the number of viable organs available for transplant. I suggest that the proposed revival results, at least in part, from developments in the contemporary political landscape, notably the decreasing likelihood of an opt-out system for the UK's Organ Donor Register. I go on to suggest that EV is unavoidably situated within complex debates surrounding the epistemology and ontology of death. Such questions cannot be settled a priori by medical science, bioethics or philosophical reflection. As Radcliffe-Richards suggests, the determination of death has become a moral question, and therefore, now extends into the political arena. I argue for the conclusion that EV, and wider debates about organ donation and the constitution of the organ donation register, are matters of ‘biocitizenship’ and must, therefore, be addressed as ‘biopolitical’ questions.

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