Mortal Signs: Transplantation and the Invention of Brain Death

  • Emily RussellEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


This chapter uses a literary critical lens on political, legal, and news accounts of brain death to understand how a concept as profound as death could undergo a redefinition at the end of the twentieth century. In 1968, Harvard Medical School convened an ad hoc committee that identified a series of criteria for what they called “irreversible coma,” which became the law of the land under the term “brain death.” The Harvard Criteria defines death as a series of signs to be read in the patient and as something to be declared—a true performative utterance. As such, a condition as seemingly fixed as death itself becomes located in the sphere of cultural construction and subject to literary analysis.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rollins CollegeWinter ParkUSA

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