Most Western nations accept brain death as determining human death.
Whether a person is dead or alive determines his or her legal rights. Constitutional, statutory and common law rights belong only to persons who are alive. Respectful handling and disposition of the bodily remains are the only "rights" of a corpse.People who propose a redefinition of death do so because they want to treat some living persons as if they were dead.
They have accepted a quality of life viewpoint that says that people who are severely disabled, but living, should be treated as if they were dead and thus deprived of all their rights.
If death can be redefined to include persons who are permanently unconscious, why could it not be further changed to include others living with severe disabilities - mental retardation, quadriplegia or mental illness - for similar reasons, such as poor quality of life.
And if the state has the power to define living people as dead, what will stop it from defining whole classes of persons who are medically dependent, victims of prejudice or merely inconvenient, as also dead?
It is important that brain death criteria be scientifically precise and reliable through the use of verifiable medical tests. Medical science has formulated the criteria for brain death and the tests for determining when the criteria have been met.
The accepted determination of death is the permanent non-functioning of the whole brain - both the cortex and the brain stem.
The reason for including the brain stem is because people are alive as long as the brain stem continues to provide the integrating function for the body. When the brain stem stops, this integrating function ceases and no therapy is available to restore vital bodily functions. Thus, brain death is death.
Persons who are permanently unconscious, but whose brain stems still function normally, however, are not dead. These people can live unassisted except for feeding by tube.
Tube feeding has become so routine for conscious and unconscious patients, with a variety of disorders rendering it necessary, that it is considered ordinary care.
Since some patients never regain consciousness, some people have proposed that the brain death criteria be changed because such unconscious persons have a "poor quality of life."
They want to "define" people who are permanently incompetent as dead, thus enabling us to treat them as corpses, not as persons with legal rights.
This is not just a change in the criteria for determining brain death, but a redefinition of death from a biological one to a sociological one.
This change in brain death criteria has been called "neocortical death" or "cerebral death." Proponents argue that to continue feeding and treatment of persons considered permanently unconscious is futile and too costly.
They argue that the quality of life is too poor and that, therefore, these living persons should have their rights terminated by defining them as dead.
Their arguments are sociological in nature, not scientific. If this change is accepted, the result will be the intentional killing of persons who are alive but severely disabled.
The criteria for determining death must be based on whether a patient is biologically dead or alive, not on non-medical factors.
Defining as dead people who are actually alive - as "cerebral death" proponents would do - gives the awesome power of life and death to the state. The state should not be allowed to treat people who are alive as non-persons - by the sleight of hand of defining them as dead.