The World Brain Death Project: The More You Say It Does Not Make It True

Ari R. Joffe, Gregory Hansen, and James Tibballs




The World Brain Death Project clarified many aspects of the diagnosis of brain death/death by neurologic criteria. Clearer descriptions than previously published were presented concerning the etiology, prerequisites, minimum clinical criteria, apnea testing targets, and indications for ancillary testing. Nevertheless, there remained many epistemic and metaphysical assertions that were either false, ad hoc, or confused. Epistemically, the project was not successful in explaining away remaining brain functions, complex reflexes as “spinal,” the risk and lack of utility of the apnea test, the ignored and often present confounders of central endocrine dysfunction and high-cervical-spinal-cord injury, the limitations of ancillary tests, or the cases of reversibility of some findings of brain death/death by neurologic criteria. Metaphysically, the World Brain Death Project variously suggested different concepts of death that were not supported with argument. Concepts offered included simply restating the criterion of brain death/death by neurologic criteria; personhood, without recognizing it is a higher-brain concept; and emergent functions of the organism as a whole, without specifying what these might be, if not biologic anti-entropic integration that actually remains after brain death/death by neurologic criteria. The World Brain Death Project only offered confused metaphysical discussion, and gave no reason why the state they described as brain death/death by neurologic criteria should be considered death itself. The main epistemic and metaphysical problems with brain death/death by neurologic criteria remain untouched by the World Brain Death Project.




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