Statutory definitions of death and the management of terminally ill patients who may become organ donors after death

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 1993 Jun;3(2):145-55. doi: 10.1353/ken.0.0025.


The law stipulates that death is irreversible. Patients treated in accord with the Pittsburgh protocol have death pronounced when their condition might well be reversed by intervention that is intentionally withheld. Nevertheless, the protocol is in accord with the medical "Guidelines for the Determination of Death." However, the Guidelines fail to capture the intent of the law, which turns out to be a good thing, for the law embodies a faulty definition of death. The inclusion of "irreversible" in the legal definition makes that definition excessively demanding and out of step with the ordinary concept of death. On this basis the protocol is absolved of the moral but not the legal charge that it involves vivisection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Death*
  • Ethics, Institutional*
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Hospitals, University / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Hospitals, University / standards
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care / standards
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tissue Donors / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / standards*
  • United States
  • Withholding Treatment