When?
Limits to Life-Sustaining Treatment


1. Death as the limit

This seems a natural limit - but it is not quite as simple and straighforward as you might think at first.

See the previous page for cases in which patients have been sustained even AFTER they have died.

Furthermore, the DEFINITION of death is somewhat controversial. The following options are among those that have been discusssed as marking the boundary between life and death.

  1. irreversible cessation of heart and lung function
  2. irreversible cessation of total brain function (including the brain stem)
  3. irreversible cessation of cortical (higher brain) function
  4. irreversible loss of consciousness

Which do you think is the appropriate criterion for declaring death? All 50 states in the US have adopted a uniform definition in terms of #2 above.

Would you be comfortable having this applied to you? If not, contact your legislators.

Created by Glenn C. Graber
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