Defining Death.

Advancement in technology defines death in a new way.
by Arthur L. Caplan, Glenn McGee

In the 1960s the advance of life-supporting technologies and the various challenges they posed spawned the growth of medical ethics as a distinct field, particularly in the United States. One broad challenge was the need to define death in a new way. For many centuries, death was clearly indicated by the absence of a pulse or signs of breathing. However, as new technologies such as the mechanical ventilator or respirator and the heart-lung machine allowed physicians to artificially maintain function in hearts and lungs, the clear signs of death became more blurred. Medical ethicists struggled to define death in a new way, so that the gravely ill would have the right to live maintained by technology, while those who had technically died would not be maintained on life-support machines. In the United States, many states have adopted legislation formally recognizing brain death‹the loss of brain function, which controls respiration and heartbeat‹as certification of death. Most European nations, Canada, Australia, and Central and South American nations define death either as the loss of all independent lung and heart function or the permanent and irreversible loss of all brain function.