Several bioethicists have recently discussed the complexity of defining human death, and considered in particular how our definition of death affects our understanding of the ethics of vital organ procurement. In this brief paper, we challenge the mainstream medical definition of human death—namely, that death is equivalent to total brain failure—and argue with Nair-Collins and Miller that integrated biological functions can continue even after total brain failure has occurred. We discuss the implications of Nair-Collins and Miller’s argument and suggest that it may be necessary to look for alternative biological markers that reliably indicate the death of a human being. We reject the suggestion that we should abandon the dead-donor criteria for organ donation. Rather than weaken the ethical standards for vital organ procurement, it may be necessary to make them more demanding. The aim of this paper is not to justify the dead donor rule. Rather, we aim to explore the perspective of those who agree with critiques of the whole brain and cardiopulmonary definitions of death but yet disagree with the proposal that we should abandon the dead-donor rule. We will consider what those who want to retain the dead-donor rule must argue in light of Nair-Collins and Miller’s critique.
- vital organ donation
- donation/procurement of organs/tissues
- definition/determination of death
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Contributors The authors of this paper contributed equally in the drafting process.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.