A requiem for whole brain death: a response to D. Alan Shewmon's 'the brain and somatic integration'

J Med Philos. 2001 Oct;26(5):479-91. doi: 10.1076/jmep.26.5.479.3005.


Alan Shewmon's article, 'The brain and somatic integration: Insights into the standard biological rationale for equating "brain death" with death' (2001), strikes at the heart of the standard justification for whole brain death criteria. The standard justification, which I call the 'standard paradigm', holds that the permanent loss of the functions of the entire brain marks the end of the integrative unity of the body. In my response to Shewmon's article, I first offer a brief summary of the standard paradigm and cite recent work by advocates of whole brain criteria who tenaciously cling to the standard paradigm despite increasing evidence showing that it has significant weaknesses. Second, I address Shewmon's case against the standard paradigm, arguing that he is successful in showing that whole brain dead patients have integrated organic unity. Finally, I discuss some minor problems with Shewmon's article, along with suggestions for further elaboration.

Publication types

  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics
  • Body Constitution / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Death / physiopathology*
  • Death
  • Humans
  • Systems Theory