Dead or Alive? Seems Like a Simple Question, But...

The "Ideas" section in this week's Boston Sunday Globe had an article exploring how the advances of modern medicine have made "death" a subjective term...

The "Ideas" section in this week's Boston Sunday Globe had an article exploring how the advances of modern medicine have made "death" a subjective term—cardiac arrest no longer means certain death, and even the standard of brain death isn't crystal-clear: some brain-dead patients continue to display activity in the hypothalamus.

The story quotes Dr. Robert Truog, director of the Institute for Professionalism and Ethical Practice at Children's Hospital Boston and a professor of medical ethics at Harvard Medical School. An excerpt:

This debate exposes a jarring collision: On the one hand, there is the view that life and death are clear categories; on the other, there is the view that death, like life, is a process. Common sense—and the transplant community—suggest that death is a clear category. Truog and other critics suggest that this is to ignore reality.

"They think, 'We can't remove these organs unless we decide that you're dead,’” says Truog, "so the project becomes gerrymandering the criteria we use to call people dead."

To find out what else Truog said, read the Globe story here. For Truog's take on another issue—disclosing medical errors to patients and their families—read "The Talking Cure" in the current issue of Harvard Magazine.

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