Essay about Defining Death

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Defining Death

Alan D. Shewmon, the professor of pediatric neurology at UCLA Medical School believes that "until the turn of the decade, most people thought that 'brain death' was a settled issue; it no longer is. An increasing number of experts have begun to re-examine critically and to reject various key underlying assumptions" (Shewmon 1998). Determination of death has obviously become more complex, and the questions of when death is final require answers. According to most recent definitions, if the brain is entirely and irreversibly destroyed, a person can no longer relate to the world. As with any definition however, there are exceptions, gray areas, and blurred lines. We cannot strive for one all-encompassing definition. We
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A severely complicating factor in defining death is that there are two ways to define brain death. Whole brain death occurs when their entire brain is irreversibly nonfunctional. The higher brain definition states that the whole brain need not be functional; only the part responsible for personhood. According to this definition, people who are in a constant vegetative state are considered dead. One case that puts this into perspective is that of Karen Ann Quinlan, a modern icon in the right to die debate.

At First, there was no dispute about whether she would ever regain consciousness or whether she would ever be able to return to a life that was in any sense normal (have a family, a home, etc). Quinlan was in a constant vegetative state and connected to a respirator. Quinlan's family wanted their comatose daughter to die with dignity, so they had the respirator removed in the expectation that she would die, however, she continued to breathe unassisted and survived for a further ten years in this state. "What this proved was that she had a functioning brain stem. What it did not demonstrate was that her continued life had any value for her, which is what her parents valued the most for her" (Fisher 1999). For those ten years, Quinlan

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