The Definition of Death

Stuart J. Youngner

in The Oxford Handbook of Bioethics

Published in print February 2009 | ISBN: 9780199562411
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 The Definition of Death

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Two factors, medical science's growing control over the timing of death and the increasingly desperate need for organs, have led to a reopening of the debate about the definition of death and have forced a consideration of aspects of the determination of death that had never been addressed before. Without the pressing need for organs, the definition of death would have remained on the back shelf, the conversation of a few interested philosophers or theologians. This article examines some new questions raised by medical technology and the frantic search for new, morally acceptable sources of human organs over the past thirty years. This examination concludes that death itself is a social construct and that, in a pluralistic society such as ours, a conclusive definition of death or determination of the moment of death is out of the reach of both medical science and philosophy.

Keywords: definition of death; medical technology; human organs; social construct; pluralistic society; medical philosophy

Article.  8336 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science ; Moral Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Philosophy of Religion

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