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A Legal Fiction with Real Consequence


Event Summary

Photo of Syd Johnson

Photo by Denise Rego Bass

While brain death has played a positive role in allowing the procurement of lifesaving organs, it raises concerns when it is treated as a social, biological, and legal fact to the detriment of patients and families. According to Syd Johnson (Upstate Medical University), one of the issues to be discussed is denying health insurance coverage for brain-dead patients, which is arbitrary and potentially coercive. At this event, Johnson presented a paper arguing that there is no ethical justification for denying coverage to a living patient on life support, even at “the extreme end of the spectrum of neurological injury” when other neurologically injured persons are covered. The working group also discussed the instrumentalization of brain-dead patients when they are organ donors and the perception of discrimination that results. The discussion was guided by considering the ethical implications of brain death and the need for greater consistency and justice in its legal and social treatment.

This working group was organized as part of the Death: From Philosophy to Medical Practice and the Law project at the Neubauer Collegium. This event is for invited participants only and is not open to the public.