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A Path Not Taken: Beecher, Brain Death, and the Aims of Medicine.

08:00 EDT 1st November 2018 | BioPortfolio

Summary of "A Path Not Taken: Beecher, Brain Death, and the Aims of Medicine."

It has been fifty years since a report by an ad hoc committee of Harvard Medical School ushered in the widespread adoption of brain death as a definition of death. Yet brain death remains disputed as an acceptable definition within bioethics. The continuous debate among bioethicists has had three key recurring features: first and foremost, argument over alleged flaws in the conceptual logic and consistency of the "whole-brain" approach as a description of the meaning of death; second, efforts to fix perceived limitations of brain death-based practices to optimize transplantation, especially given that transplantation was the presumed original intended purpose of the definition; and third, a basic unease provoked by the experience of using the criteria and managing a body in this state of "irreversible coma." The third feature is the one I find the most compelling, though it is less explored, and it persists because of the failures of the prior two. Brain death remains strange-to medical personnel, families, philosophers. That is not because it hasn't yet been logically argued well enough or conceptually framed adequately, but because those things don't matter as much to resolving this strangeness as the bioethical approach to brain death over the last fifty years has assumed it does. It is necessary to look to other things that can anchor the aims of medicine in the midst of this strangeness.

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This article was published in the following journal.

Name: The Hastings Center report
ISSN: 1552-146X
Pages: S10-S13

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