Bench-to-bedside review: When is dead really dead - On the legitimacy of using neurologic criteria to determine death

Leslie M. Whetstine, Duquesne University


This review explores the legitimacy of the whole brain death (WBD) criterion. I argue that it does not fulfill the traditional biologic definition of death and is, therefore, an unsound clinical and philosophical criterion for death. I dispute whether the clinical tests used to diagnose WBD are sufficient to prove all critical brain functions have ceased, as well as examine the sets of brain functions that persist in many WBD patients. I conclude that the definition of death must be modified from a biologic to an ontologic model if we intend to maintain the WBD criterion. © 2007 BioMed Central Ltd.