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The Ethics of Creating and Responding to Doubts About Death Criteria

Posted: 4 Jun 2010  

James M. Dubois

Saint Louis University

Date Written: 2010


Expressing doubts about death criteria can serve healthy purposes, but can also cause a number of harms, including decreased organ donation rates and distress for donor families and health care staff. This paper explores the various causes of doubts about death criteria-including religious beliefs, misinformation, mistrust, and intellectual questions-and recommends responses to each of these. Some recommended responses are relatively simple and noncontroversial, such as providing accurate information. However, other responses would require significant changes to the way we currently do business. Policymakers should establish minimum national standards for determining death to foster a trustworthy system; academics and publishers have a duty to publish only materials that substantially engage and advance the debate to minimize the harm caused by divided expert opinion; and opposition to the dead donor rule should be conceptually separated from doubts about death criteria.

Keywords: brain death, death, donation after cardiac death, organ transplantation

Suggested Citation

Dubois, James M., The Ethics of Creating and Responding to Doubts About Death Criteria (2010). Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Vol. 35, Issue 3, pp. 365-380, 2010. Available at SSRN: or

James M. Dubois (Contact Author)

Saint Louis University ( email )

220 North Grand Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63103
United States

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