Mortal Dangers by Allen H. Roberts II

Review

Mortal Dangers

Defining Death: The Case for Choice
by Robert M. Veatch and Lainie F. Ross
Georgetown University Press, 2016
(167 pages, $29.95, paperback)

reviewed by Allen H. Roberts II

Within a year of the first human heart transplant in 1967 by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in South Africa, the medical community at large anticipated the inevitable transplantable organ supply shortfall, and moved quickly to propose a new definition of death. Hitherto, from the dawn of the age, death had been determined to have occurred by the observation that a person was unresponsive, was not breathing, and had permanently lost his pulse. The need for transplantable organs changed all that, and the so-called concept of "brain death" was born. To have an option of declaring patients brain dead, rather than dead by traditional "circulatory" criteria, would in the years to come liberate untold numbers of livers, kidneys, hearts, and lungs—destined otherwise to be buried or burned—to the great benefit of many thousands who suffer the most horrid of diseases. "The gift of life," that is, a donated organ, has been for myriad children and adults, precisely that.

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Allen H. Roberts II M.D., M.Div., M.A., is Professor of Clinical Medicine and Chair of the Clinical Ethics Committee at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D. C.

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