Do the ‘brain dead’ merely appear to be alive?

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Abstract

The established view regarding ‘brain death’ in medicine and medical ethics is that patients determined to be dead by neurological criteria are dead in terms of a biological conception of death, not a philosophical conception of personhood, a social construction or a legal fiction. Although such individuals show apparent signs of being alive, in reality they are (biologically) dead, though this reality is masked by the intervention of medical technology. In this article, we argue that an appeal to the distinction between appearance and reality fails in defending the view that the ‘brain dead’ are dead. Specifically, this view relies on an inaccurate and overly simplistic account of the role of medical technology in the physiology of a ‘brain dead’ patient. We conclude by offering an explanation of why the conventional view on ‘brain death’, though mistaken, continues to be endorsed in light of its connection to organ transplantation and the dead donor rule.

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