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Peter Singer

Abstract

For more than thirty years, in most of the world, the irreversible cessation of all brain function, more commonly known as brain death, has been accepted as a criterion of death. Yet the philosophical basis on which this understanding of death was originally grounded has been undermined by the long-term maintenance of bodily functions in brain dead patients. More recently, the American case of Jahi McMath has cast doubt on whether the standard tests for diagnosing brain death exclude a condition in which the patient is not dead, but in a minimally conscious state. I argue that the evidence now clearly shows that brain death is not equivalent to the death of the human organism. We therefore face a choice: either we stop removing vital organs from brain dead patients, or we accept that it is not wrong to kill an innocent human who has irreversibly lost consciousness.