The death of whole-brain death: the plague of the disaggregators, somaticists, and mentalists

J Med Philos. 2005 Aug;30(4):353-78. doi: 10.1080/03605310591008504.


In its October 2001 issue, this journal published a series of articles questioning the Whole-Brain-based definition of death. Much of the concern focused on whether somatic integration-a commonly understood basis for the whole-brain death view-can survive the brain's death. The present article accepts that there are insurmountable problems with whole-brain death views, but challenges the assumption that loss of somatic integration is the proper basis for pronouncing death. It examines three major themes. First, it accepts the claim of the "disaggregators" that some behaviors traditionally associated with death can be unbundled, but argues that other behaviors (including organ procurement) must continue to be associated. Second, it rejects the claims of the "somaticists," that the integration of the body is critical, arguing instead for equating death with the irreversible loss of "embodied consciousness," that is, the loss of integration of bodily and mental function. Third, it defends higher-brain views against the charge that they are necessarily "mentalist," that is, that they equate death with losing some mental function such as consciousness or personhood. It argues, instead, for the integration of bodily and mental function as the critical feature of human life and that its irreversible loss constitutes death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death
  • Brain Death*
  • Brain* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Personhood*
  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Uncertainty
  • Unconsciousness
  • Value of Life