Author(s): Youngner SJ, Bartlett ET
Modern technology has raised questions about the definition of death, and various factors that influence public policy about declaring people dead. The widely accepted "whole-brain" definition of death is inadequate and should be replaced by a definition of "irreversible loss of consciousness and cognition." Any definition that identifies the innate ability of the organism to "integrate" itself or function "as a whole" should be rejected. The proponents of such definitions fail to provide a standard for the selection of essential sub-systems. The innate integration of vegetative functions cannot be used as the necessary and sufficient condition for life. A person without innate integration can still be alive; a dead person retaining just this function can survive as a living, mindless organism. Only cognitive functions have a spontaneity that is, in principle, irreplaceable.