Brain Death

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‘Brain-death’ definition of human death has engendered several questions on what constitutes human life. Brain-death in this context refers to the cessation of brain activity and function as measured by specific tests (Blank, 193). In 1968, the ‘Harvard Criteria’ for brain-death was issued, which was centered on the lack of responses, movements, and reflexes. The unavoidable conjecture that this definition of brain-death was linked to the facilitation of organ transplants cast an aspersion on the ethics of this definition. The present standard accepted definition of death, according to the ‘Uniform Definition of Death Act,’ in 1981, encompasses the irreversible cessation of either cardiorespiratory functions or all brain functions. This whole-brain definition of death remains contentious because, in some cases, circulation and respiration, which are controlled by the brain stem, can continue while consciousness, which is controlled by the cerebral cortex, can be permanently lost. This has raised the issue of a cerebral death definition (Blank, 196), which equates human life with consciousness. Region-specific brain imaging techniques are of significance here. This definition directly impacts Persistent Vegetative State and Alzheimer’s patients. Advance directives and prior donor consent assume relevance in this context. Blank concludes by stating that the definition of death is the subject of public policy, with social, cultural, and religious ramifications and needs to be debated further.Brain death refers to the irreversible cessation of brain function. In 1968, a Harvard Medical School Committee formulated the ‘Harvard Criteria’ for defining brain deathwhich has become the accepted standard criteria in most of the developed world. The following were identified as the criteria for brain death: unreceptive or unresponsiveness, lack of spontaneous movement or breathing, and lack of reflexes.