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Talking about death is not the same as communicating about death
  1. Stuart J Youngner
  1. Correspondence to Dr Stuart J Youngner, Department of Bioethics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA; sxy2{at}case.edu

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There are two recent important studies of public knowledge about brain death and its relationship to organ procurement. The first is a comprehensive review of studies that have been conducted in several countries.1 The second is arguably the most thoughtful and comprehensive survey to date.2 The authors of both studies call for more study, education and engagement with the public. Transparency during the process would remove the fig leaf that has covered the fictions and inconsistencies concerning brain death. While public engagement and transparency are generally a good idea, there are some caveats. I will focus on two of them.

The first caveat has to do with the limitations of education and discussion that have been imposed by our grossly oversimplified language about death. Alan Shewmon has written eloquently about this issue: ‘The lexicon of any culture or society reflects what it values’3 (p279); ‘Pilots and weathercasters, for …

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