The Demise of Brain Death

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 73 (2):487-508 (2022)
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Fifty years have passed since brain death was first proposed as a criterion of death. Its advocates believe that with the destruction of the brain, integrated functioning ceases irreversibly, somatic unity dissolves, and the organism turns into a corpse. In this article, I put forward two objections against this assertion. First, I draw parallels between brain death and other pathological conditions and argue that whenever one regards the absence or the artificial replacement of a certain function in these pathological conditions as compatible with organismic unity, then one equally ought to tolerate that function’s loss or replacement in brain death. Second, I show that the neurological criterion faces an additional problem that is only coming to light as life-supporting technology improves: the growing sophistication of the latter gives rise to a dangerous decoupling of the actual performance of a vital function from the retention of neurological control over it. Half a century after its introduction, the neurological criterion is facing the same fate as its cardiopulmonary predecessor.



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