KIE Senior Research Scholar Robert Veatch and Dr. Lainie F. Ross of the University of Chicago have co-authored a book published this month by the Georgetown University Press.
The book, titled Defining Death: The Case for Choice, is adapted from the first part of Transplantation Ethics, a former publication by Dr. Veatch which stands as the first complete and systematic account of the ethical and policy controversies surrounding organ transplants. This new work argues that the definition of death is not a scientific question but a social one rooted in religious, philosophical, or social beliefs.
More on Defining Death:
New technologies and medical treatments have complicated questions such as how to determine the moment when someone has died. The result is a failure to establish consensus on the definition of death and the criteria by which the moment of death is determined. This creates confusion and disagreement not only among medical, legal, and insurance professionals but also within families faced with difficult decisions concerning their loved ones.
Drawing on history and recent court cases, the authors detail three potential definitions of death — the whole-brain concept; the circulatory, or somatic, concept; and the higher-brain concept. Because no one definition of death commands majority support, it creates a major public policy problem. The authors cede that society needs a default definition to proceed in certain cases, like those involving organ transplantation. But they also argue the decision-making process must give individuals the space to choose among plausible definitions of death according to personal beliefs.