Controversies in Cardiopulmonary Death

Journal of Clinical Ethics 28 (2):97-101 (2017)
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Abstract

We describe two unusual cases of cardiopulmonary death in mechanically ventilated patients in the neurological intensive care unit. After cardiac arrest, both patients were pulseless for a protracted period. Upon extubation, both developed agonal movements (gasping respiration) resembling life. We discuss these cases and the literature on the ethical and medical controversies associated with determining time of cardiopulmonary death. We conclude that there is rarely a single moment when all of a patient’s physiological functions stop working at once. This can pose a challenge for determining the exact moment of death.

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