The Problematic Role of ‘Irreversibility’ in the Definition of Death
Hershenov (David)
Source: Bioethics, 17.1, Feb2003, pp. 89-100, 12p
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Philosophers Index Abstract

    Most definitions of death – whether cardiopulmonary, whole brain and brain stem, or just upper brain – include an irreversibility condition. Cessation of function is not enough to declare death. Irreversibility should be limited to an organism’s ability to ‘restart’ itself after vital organs have ceased to function. However, this would mean that every hour people who cannot be revived without the intervention of medical personnel and their technology are coming back from the dead. However, the alternative of irreversibility being dependent upon technology will lead to even more counterintuitive results such as: some people are dead at a particular time and place, but others in more technologically advanced eras and locations are alive despite their being in identical physical states; in the future, millions of cryogenically frozen human beings could spend centuries in a non–dead state because of the future technological breakthroughs; or large numbers of ‘frozen’ people are dead for aeons but coroners are not able to declare them so because they are unaware of what biological conditions science will never be able to reverse. So death should be defined only in non–relational biological terms with a self–starting condition similar to that once advocated by Lawrence Becker.

Comment:

For the full text, see Hershenov - The Problematic Role of ‘Irreversibility’ in the Definition of Death.

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