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Keywords:

  • religion;
  • death;
  • brain criterion;
  • cardiac death;
  • organ donation;
  • integration;
  • soul and body

ABSTRACT

Most organized religions have indicated a level of support for organ donation including the diagnosis of death by the brain criterion. Organ donation is seen as a gift of love and fits within a communitarian ethos that most religions embrace. The acceptance of the determination of death by the brain criterion, where it has been explained, is reconciled with religious views of soul and body by using a notion of integration. Because the soul may be seen as that which integrates the human body, in the absence of any other signs of human functioning, loss of integration is considered to be an indication that soul and body have separated. To some extent this view would seem to be informed by an Aristotelian notion of the soul, but it fits well enough with religious notions of the person continuing after death.

There have been several developments internationally that indicate that the acceptance of so-called ‘brain death’ by organized religions has been challenged by new developments including the acceptance of a lesser standard than loss of all brain function and a rejection by the US President's Council on Bioethics of the notion of loss of integration as an explanation of death by the brain criterion.