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Decapitation and the definition of death
  1. Franklin G Miller1,
  2. Robert D Truog2
  1. 1Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  2. 2Harvard Medical School, Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Franklin G Miller, Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, Building 10, Room 1C118, Bethesda, MD 20892-1156, USA; fmiller{at}nih.gov

Abstract

Although established in the law and current practice, the determination of death according to neurological criteria continues to be controversial. Some scholars have advocated return to the traditional circulatory and respiratory criteria for determining death because individuals diagnosed as ‘brain dead’ display an extensive range of integrated biological functioning with the aid of mechanical ventilation. Others have attempted to refute this stance by appealing to the analogy between decapitation and brain death. Since a decapitated animal is obviously dead, and ‘brain death’ represents physiological decapitation, brain dead individuals must be dead. In this article we refute this ‘decapitation gambit.’ We argue that decapitated animals are not necessarily dead, and that, moreover, the analogy between decapitation and the clinical syndrome of brain death is flawed.

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Footnotes

  • The opinions expressed are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy of the National Institutes of Health, the Public Health Service, or the US Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Funding This research was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the Clinical Center, NIH.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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