The New Atlantis magazine has an in-depth article discussing the difficulty in defining death and why arguments about the brain have become central to understanding the final curtain.
The article is a little bit wordy in places but does a great job of exploring the philosophy of death definitions and why these have direct practical applications in medicine.
Not least in ‘pulling the plug’ decisions and the removal of organs from people who have been declared brain dead even while their body is still functioning on life support.
Another way forward is to confess that all this time the real reason why the neurological standard seemed palatable was that the patient with total brain failure has lost consciousness and will never regain it.
All the talk about the body no longer being a whole was just a distraction. The pulsing heartbeat, the warm skin, all the integrated work of the body‚Äîthese are indicators that the body is alive but not the person.
And it is the life of the person that demands protection, in this case from being made into a source for organs. This kind of dualism opens the door, of course, to the possibility that there are more ‚Äúpersonless‚Äù bodies‚Äîthat, for instance, some patients with severe dementia or PVS [persistent vegetative state] might meet the description.
Link to article ‘What and When Is Death?’