When are you dead enough to be a donor? Can any feasible protocol for the determination of death on circulatory criteria respect the dead donor rule?

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 40 (4):299-319 (2019)


The basic question concerning the compatibility of donation after circulatory death protocols with the dead donor rule is whether such protocols can guarantee that the loss of relevant biological functions is truly irreversible. Which functions are the relevant ones? I argue that the answer to this question can be derived neither from a proper understanding of the meaning of the term “death” nor from a proper understanding of the nature of death as a biological phenomenon. The concept of death can be made fully determinate only by stipulation. I propose to focus on the irreversible loss of the capacity for consciousness and the capacity for spontaneous breathing. Having accepted that proposal, the meaning of “irreversibility” need not be twisted in order to claim that DCD protocols can guarantee that the loss of these functions is irreversible. And this guarantee does not mean that reversing that loss is either conceptually impossible or known to be impossible with absolute certainty.

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