What Does ‘Brain Dead’ Really Mean? The Battle Over How Science Defines the End of Life

July 17, 2023

(Nature) – Dead in California but alive in New Jersey: that was the status of 13-year-old Jahi McMath after physicians in Oakland, California, declared her brain dead in 2013, after complications from a tonsillectomy. Unhappy with the care that their daughter received and unwilling to remove life support, McMath’s family moved with her to New Jersey, where the law allowed them to lodge a religious objection to the declaration of brain death and keep McMath connected to life-support systems for another four and a half years.

Prompted by such legal discrepancies and a growing number of lawsuits around the United States, a group of neurologists, physicians, lawyers and bioethicists is attempting to harmonize state laws surrounding the determination of death. They say that imprecise language in existing laws — as well as research done since the laws were passed — threatens to undermine public confidence in how death is defined worldwide. (Read More)