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Does it matter that organ donors are not dead? Ethical and policy implications
  1. M Potts2,
  2. D W Evans1
  1. 1Queens’ College, Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2Philosophy and Religion Department, Methodist College, 5400 Ramsey Street, Fayetteville, NC 28311-1498, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor M Potts
 5400 Ramsey Street, Fayetteville, NC 28311 – 1498, USA;


The “standard position” on organ donation is that the donor must be dead in order for vital organs to be removed, a position with which we agree. Recently, Robert Truog and Walter Robinson have argued that (1) brain death is not death, and (2) even though “brain dead” patients are not dead, it is morally acceptable to remove vital organs from those patients. We accept and defend their claim that brain death is not death, and we argue against both the US “whole brain” criterion and the UK “brain stem” criterion. Then we answer their arguments in favour of removing vital organs from “brain dead” and other classes of comatose patients. We dispute their claim that the removal of vital organs is morally equivalent to “letting nature take its course”, arguing that, unlike “allowing to die”, it is the removal of vital organs that kills the patient, not his or her disease or injury. Then, we argue that removing vital organs from living patients is immoral and contrary to the nature of medical practice. Finally, we offer practical suggestions for changing public policy on organ transplantation.

  • EEG, electroencephalogram
  • UDDA, uniform determination of death act
  • brain death
  • euthanasia
  • organ transplantation

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  • David Evans is a sometime consultant cardiologist to Papworth and Addenbrooke’s Hospitals, Cambridge, UK. Professor Potts is Chair of the Philosophy and Religion Department and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Methodist College, Fayetteville, NC, USA

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