The 'redefinition of death' debate: Western concepts and western bioethics

Science and Engineering Ethics 7 (1):63-75 (2001)
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Abstract

Biomedicine is a global enterprise constructed upon the belief in the universality of scientific truths. However, despite huge scientific advances over recent decades it has not been able to formulate a specific and universal definition of death: In fact, in its attempt to redefine death, the concept of death appears to have become immersed in ever increasing vagueness and ambiguity. Even more worrisome is that bioethics, in the form of principlism, is also endeavouring to become a global enterprise by claiming neutrality. It appears that the discourse within both disciplines have similarly manipulated the boundaries of death to include the “dying”. This paper argues that the redefinition of death debate in biomedicine reveals a concept of personhood which is profoundly western in origin and which is in accordance to the concept adhered to within principlism. Biomedicine and bioethics do not appear to acknowledge the limitations of their own world view and hence lack an understanding of their applicability and appropriateness in diverse social and cultural contexts; a situation which adds credence to claims as to the hegemonic and imperialistic nature of all such global enterprises.

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