Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society Organization Logo Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society


Making Progress on Death: Towards an Updated Normative Framework

03.24.2021 – 03.25.2021

Event Summary

Over 50 years after its inception, the Neurological Standard for Declaration of Death (NSDD) remains a subject of criticisms and challenges. Despite being widely established within medical practice and the law, there remains considerable public confusion about the meaning of the term “brain dead” and its relation to the death of a human being. There is also dissent by some clinicians, philosophers, and other critical observers in claiming that “brain death” is, indeed, the death of the human being. Some of these critics have published evidence of ongoing integrated bodily activities in some patients meeting the criteria of “whole brain death” and who have claimed that this evidence invalidates the rationale for today’s consensus position, and makes the NSDD akin to a medical/legal/social construct. At the other extreme, there are pressures against insisting that declaring death, or at least “organ donation eligibility,” requires the irreversible loss of function in the whole brain. These challenges necessitate a re-examination of the neurological standard. In this conference, we intended to undertake such a re-examination. We invited a diverse multidisciplinary group of experts who critically discussed and engaged with the philosophical, medical, and legal aspects of current debates surrounding the declaration of death based on neurologic criteria. The goal was to investigate points of controversy in depth with an eye towards lessening disagreements, exploring alternatives, and considering how to engage with the public.


Sean Aas, Senior Research Scholar, Kennedy Institute of Ethics; Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown University

James Bernat, Emeritus Professor of Neurology, Dartmouth Medical School

Kathy Cerminara, Professor of Law, Shepard Broad College of Law

David DeGrazia, Elton Professor of Philosophy, George Washington University; Senior Research Fellow, Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health

Fernando Goldenberg, Associate Professor of Neurology and Surgery (Neurosurgery), University of Chicago

Ari Joffe, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Adjunct Professor at the John Dossetor Health Ethics Center, University of Alberta, Edmonton

L. Syd Johnson, Associate Professor, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY

Christos Lazaridis, Associate Professor of Neurology and Surgery (Neurosurgery), University of Chicago; Faculty, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics

Ariane Lewis, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

John Lizza, Professor of Philosophy, Kutztown University

David Magnus, Thomas A. Raffin Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Ethics and Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, Stanford University; Director, Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics

Kimberly M. Mutcherson, Co-Dean and Professor of Law, Rutgers Law School

Michael Nair-Collins, Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine, Florida State University

Erin Paquette, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics (Critical Care), Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Thaddeus Pope, Professor of Law, Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Lainie Ross, Carolyn and Matthew Bucksbaum Professor of Clinical Ethics; Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Medicine, and Surgery, University of Chicago; Co-Director, Institute for Translational Medicine; Associate Director, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics

Seema Shah, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Medical School; Associate Director, Bioethics Program, Lurie Children’s Hospital

Alan Shewmon, Professor Emeritus of Pediatric Neurology, UCLA

Robert Truog, Frances Glessner Lee Professor of Medical Ethics, Anesthesiology and Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School; Director, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School