Table 2

Defining ‘death’

Representative scholarly viewFrequency
I don't understand this question. Dead means dead, and I meant dead.‘Commonsense’ view (cf Nair-Collins16)465
I meant dead in a scientific sense: The body no longer functions as a whole, biologically.Bernat17434
I meant that the person is gone: The individual is irreversibly unconscious and will never wake up again, although the body might be technically alive in a biological sense.Green and Wikler,18 Lizza19384
I meant legally dead: Legal requirements are satisfied, but those requirements might not be the same as what a biologist would call ‘dead’, and the body might not be technically dead in a biological sense.Legal concept (cf Nair-Collins16)195
I meant ‘As good as dead’: So long as the patient can't suffer and will never wake up or have thoughts and feelings again, I consider that patient dead, even if the body isn't technically dead in a scientific sense, or if there are some continuing biological functions.Miller and Truog4173
I meant ‘morally’ or ‘socially’ dead: Everything that made life meaningful or important for the person is gone, and it is ethically ok to do some things, like remove organs, that would not be ok to do to another person.Veatch2088
Other: (fill-in)*17
  • A total of 725 participants (66%) chose only one answer. Of those who chose only one answer, the two most common responses were ‘Dead means dead’ (n=285, 26%) and ‘I meant dead in a scientific sense’ (n=163, 15%).

  • *Among those who chose ‘Other’, five answers included mention of brain death.