Organ Procurement: A Case for Pluralism on the Definition of Death

Choong, Kartina Aisha orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9407-1771 (2013) Organ Procurement: A Case for Pluralism on the Definition of Death. The Journal of Medical Law and Ethics . ISSN 2213-5405

[thumbnail of 7182_Choong.pdf] PDF - Published Version
Restricted to Repository staff only


Official URL:


Brainstem death has, since 1976, been accepted by the medical establishment in the UK as the means for defining death. Its subsequent endorsement by the courts now makes it lawful for the life-sustaining medical treatment of patients who have been diagnosed as brainstem dead to be terminated and for their organs, particularly vital organs, to be removed for transplantation. However, this definition of death has never been universally accepted. For Roman Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Jews for instance, death is associated more with the cessation of breathing. For them, terminating a mechanical ventilator upon the pronouncement of brainstem death could therefore be tantamount to murder. Yet this definition has been and continues to be the sole one used across ICUs in Britain to ascertain death. This article puts forward the view that in an increasingly multi-religious society, a matter as crucial as when one’s life ends should undergo an extensive Parliamentary debate where competing faith-based viewpoints could be properly considered. English law should, following this, endeavour to facilitate and protect patients’ right to choose which concept of human death they would like to be applied to their deaths.

Repository Staff Only: item control page