Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A New Definition of Death


Bioethicists Save Organ Donation by Tweaking the Definition of Death

By Brandon Keim EmailJanuary 13, 2009 | 7:38:12 PMCategories: Bioethics

In response to an emerging moral controversy over whether most vital organs used in transplants are technically taken from living people, the President's Council on Bioethics issued a new report that defines brain death as the cessation of engagement with the world.

The report overturns the current neurological death standard's reliance on an outdated notion of the brain as the body's control center for physiological processes.

The Council's definition of life as a process of engagement, which might sound like so much philosophical mumbo-jumbo, could keep the number of organ transplants from plummeting.

"One is faced with a choice of saying that the notion of brain death doesn't work, and since you're not supposed to take organs from a donor until they're dead, we have to stop doing a lot of transplantation — or you can find a better explanation for why total brain failure constitutes the death of an organism," said Gilbert Meilaender, a Valparaiso University bioethicist and Council member. "We offer a better philosophical explanation."

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Image: Flickr/Rodrigo Basaure

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