, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 119–127

A Defense of Brain Death

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s12152-016-9252-0

Cite this article as:
Gligorov, N. Neuroethics (2016) 9: 119. doi:10.1007/s12152-016-9252-0


In 1959 two French neurologists, Pierre Mollaret and Maurice Goullon, coined the term coma dépassé to designate a state beyond coma. In this state, patients are not only permanently unconscious; they lack the endogenous drive to breathe, as well as brainstem reflexes, indicating that most of their brain has ceased to function. Although legally recognized in many countries as a criterion for death, brain death has not been universally accepted by bioethicists, by the medical community, or by the public. I this paper, I defend brain death as a biological concept. I challenge two assumptions in the brain death literature that have shaped the debate and have stood in the way of an argument for brain death as biological. First, I challenge the dualism established in the debate between the body and the brain. Second, I contest the emphasis on consciousness, which prevents the inclusion of psychological phenomena into a biological criterion of death. I propose that the term organism should apply both to the functioning of the body and the brain. I argue that the cessation of the organism as a whole should take into account three elements of integrated function. Those three elements are: 1) the loss of integrated bodily function; 2) the loss of psychophysical integration required for processing of external stimuli and those required for behavior; and, 3) the loss of integrated psychological function, such as memory, learning, attention, and so forth. The loss of those three elements of integrated function is death.


Brain death Consciousness Whole brain death Vegetative states 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Icahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiNew YorkUSA

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