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An unquestioned assumption in the debate on the dead donor rule
  1. Michael Nair-Collins
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael Nair-Collins, Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine, Florida State University College of Medicine, Tallahassee, FL 32304, USA; michael.nair-collins{at}

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Frank Miller and I recently argued that the common assertion that ‘brain dead’ patients merely appear to be alive, though in reality are dead, is false.1 This assertion relies on an inaccurate and overly simplistic understanding of the role of medical technology in the physiology of a ‘brain dead’ patient. In response, Symons and Chua endorsed our conclusions regarding the vital status of the ventilated ‘brain dead’ patient, and then pursued the question: what does this imply if we are to preserve the dead donor rule?2

To their credit, Symons and Chua unflinchingly acknowledge that if we seek to maintain the dead donor rule then we must restrict not expand the donor pool because ‘brain dead’ individuals are still living. This would mean fewer organs, and hence more deaths of those on the waiting list. This is the price of holding to the conviction that doctors must never kill patients in order to procure organs for transplantation. Of course, that has always been the price: the dead donor rule is principally a deontic prohibition, not a consequentialist rule designed to maximise good outcomes.

Symons’s and Chua’s view is a valid position in the debate on death and the ethics of vital organ procurement, and …

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