Critical analysis of three arguments against consent requirement for the diagnosis of brain death


In modern hospitals in developed countries, deaths are determined usually after a prearranged schedule of resuscitative efforts. By default, death is diagnosed and determined after “full code” or after the failure of intensive resuscitation. In end-of-life contexts, however, various degrees of less-than-full resuscitation and sometimes no resuscitation are allowed after the consent and shared decision-making of the patient and/or surrogates. The determination of brain death is a unique exception in these contexts because such an end-of-life care plan is usually not offered until after brain death is declared. This essay analyzes and critiques three arguments for denying the family and/or surrogate a chance to consent to or forego the diagnostic protocol of brain death and choose an alternative end-of-life plan. First, opponents of consent for the determination of brain death argue that presenting it as a selectable end-of-life plan undermines the integrity of death determination. The second argument is that it is inconsistent to allow foregoing the determination of brain death when the determination of circulatory death is non-negotiable. The third argument is that allowing the patient/surrogate to forego the determination of brain death would jeopardize the fair and appropriate utilization of intensive care resources and potentially reduce organ donor pools. After closer conceptual examinations of these three arguments, this essay concludes that these arguments are conceptually and morally problematic. It defends an alternative patient-centered end-of-life care plan based on consent and shared decision-making.

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Osamu Muramoto
Oregon Health Sciences University


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