In August 1968, an "ad hoc" committee set up by Harvard Medical School proposed a redefinition of the traditional concept of death, based on the cessation of cardio-pulmonary activities. According to the new criteria, which justified all types of transplants, a strictly neurological finding would be sufficient to ascertain death: the definitive cessation of brain functions, defined as an "irreversible" coma. These neurological criteria, adopted by many Western legislators, seem today to have lost the scientific justification on which their use was initially based. Over the years since their first application, numerous clinical evidences have appeared, which have proved inexplicable in the light of scientific data, have raised questions - first of all of a medical-biological nature, but also ethical-philosophical, theological, legal - and have contributed to reopening a debate apparently long overdue. While the discussion on the whole subject is lively in Germany, Japan, Great Britain and the United States of America, in Italy the question is still not very thorough. The collection of Finis Vitae studies. Is Brain Death Still Life? (Rome, 2006) now presented in Italian translation, intends to provide an accurate reconstruction of this debate and to suggest a careful revision of the concept of brain death.
Author: Roberto de Mattei
Edition year: 2008