Challenges to a Circulatory–Respiratory Criterion for Death
Chapter 4 is devoted to a critical consideration of brain-based objections to the sole reliance on the traditional criteria for determining death. Starting with the assumption that brain death constitutes physiological decapitation, some commentators have argued that it is absurd to maintain that brain dead bodies remain alive. We contend, however, that decapitation does not signify death, understood as the cessation of the functioning of the organism as a whole. In the second half of the chapter we critically examine the "higher brain" standard of death. According to this conception, "brain dead" individuals are dead not because they have ceased to function biologically but because they have irreversibly lost the capacity for consciousness. The higher brain standard founders for both theoretical and practical reasons: it depends on the inherently vague and contested concept of personhood; and no reliable criteria are available for diagnosing the irreversible absence of consciousness.
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