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Revista médica de Chile

Print version ISSN 0034-9887


ECHEVERRIA B, Carlos et al. The diagnosis of death. Rev. méd. Chile [online]. 2004, vol.132, n.1, pp.95-107. ISSN 0034-9887.

This paper undertakes an analysis of the scientific criteria used in the diagnosis of death and underscores the importance of intellectual rigor in the definition of medical concepts, particularly regarding such a critical issue as the diagnosis of death. Under the cardiorespiratory criterion, death is defined as «the irreversible cessation of the functioning of an organism as a whole» and the tests used to confirm this criterion (negative life-signs) are sensitive and specific. In this case, cadaverous phenomena appear immediately following the diagnosis of death. On the other hand, doubts have arisen concerning the theoretical and the inner consistency of the criterion of brain death, since it does not satisfy the definition of «the irreversible cessation of the functioning of an organism as a whole», nor the requirement of «total and irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem». There is evidence to the effect that the tests used to confirm this criterion are not specific enough. It is clear that brain death marks the beginning of a process that eventually ends in death, though death does not occur at that moment. From an ethical point of view, the conflict arises between the need to provide an unequivocal diagnosis of death and the possibility of saving a life through organ transplantation. The sensitive issue of brain death calls for a more thorough and in-depth discussion among physicians and the community at large (Rev Méd Chile 2004; 132: 95-107).

Keywords : Brain death; Death; Ethics; medical; Transplantation.

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