Posted by: Tony Carson | 12 September, 2007

What is the definition of death?

Does death occur when the heart stops or when the brain dies?

“Forty years ago, being dead used to be very simple – it was the point at which your heart stopped beating.

“Now death itself has been complicated by the fact that we can keep alive people who are brain dead almost indefinitely.

“Brain death is the point at which doctors can switch off machines or begin harvesting organs, but, to relatives, being brain dead is not the same as being a corpse.

Professor Kellehear, of the University of Bath (UK) wonders, Call to revamp death definition, if it is right to use brain death as the key criterion for switching off life support (and removing organs) even though the heart is still technically beating.

Good question. As the Terry Shiavo case made so obvious, just when death occurs and who has the right to make that pronouncement remains contentious. And it shouldn’t be. Precisely when death occurs, who has the authority to pronounce death and what rights the dying have in that decision should be clear to all.

Further, in this age of artificial life support, the patient must be given the right of termination.

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