Person Perception and the Death of the Person: A New Role for Health Professionals in Cases of Brain Death
Today’s hospitals no longer contain only beds — the “staffed bed capacity” which affects the calculation of the hospital’s revenues and expenditures — for, as Professor John Lachs remarked over a decade ago, “gardens … flourish in our major hospitals…. [They contain] thousands of human vegetables we sustain on life-preserving machines without any hope of recovery” (, p. 839). In this New England Journal of Medicine essay, Lachs was concerned to distinguish humane treatment from the treatment of humans, and he wrote convincingly on the criteria we as a society should employ in order to justify — both morally and medically — the discontinuation of treatment for those without any hope for recovery. He defended “merciful euthanasia” and admonished his readers to reevaluate their apparently fundamental aim — “to keep this creature [the unconscious vegetable] breathing and growing to no end” (, p. 840). Notwithstanding the ever-present danger that physicians do at times err by making false-positive determinations of death, i.e., declaring the patient dead when, indeed, he is alive, Lachs urged that we judge such irreversibly comatose creatures as no longer human.
KeywordsBrain Death Person Perception Dead Person Brain Necrosis Human Vegetable
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- 1.Agich, G. J. and Jones, R. P.: 1985, ‘The Logical Status of Brain Death Criteria’, The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 10 (4), 386–395.Google Scholar
- 2.Jonas, H.: 1974, ‘Against the Stream: Comments on the Definition and Redefinition of Death’, in Jonas, H., Philosophical Essays, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, pp. 132–140.Google Scholar
- 3.Joul-Jensen, P.: 1970, Criteria of Brain Death: Selection of Donors for Transplantation, (trans.) A. Rousing, Munksgaard, Copenhagen, Denmark.Google Scholar
- 5.Lachs, J.: 1988, ‘The Element of Choice in Criteria of Death’, in this volume, pp. 233–251.Google Scholar
- 6.Lynn, J.: 1983, ‘The Determination of Death’, Annals of Internal Medicine 99 (2), 264–266.Google Scholar
- 7.Plum, F. and Posner, J. B.: 1985, The Diagnosis of Stupor and Coma, 3rd ed., F. A. Davis Co., Philadelphia, Penn.Google Scholar
- 8.President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research: 1981, Defining Death, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
- 9.Puccetti, R.: 1987, ‘Does Anyone Survive Neocortical Death?’, in this volume, pp. 75–90.Google Scholar
- 10.Youngner, S. J. and Bartlett, E. T.: 1983, ‘Human Death and High Technology: The Failure of the Whole-Brain Formulations’, Annals of Internal Medicine 99 (2), 252–258.Google Scholar
- 11.Wright, B. A.: 1979, ‘Atypical Physique and the Appraisal of Persons’, Connecticut Medicine 43 (10), 19–24.Google Scholar