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Highly Accessed Open Badges Review

Pro/con ethics debate: When is dead really dead?

Leslie Whetstine1, Stephen Streat2, Mike Darwin3 and David Crippen4*

Author Affiliations

1 Health Care Ethics Center, Duquesne University, 600 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15282, USA

2 Department of Critical Care Medicine, Auckland Hospital, Private Bag 92-024, Auckland, New Zealand

3 Independent Critical Care Consultant, PO Box 1175, Ash Fork Arizona 86320, USA

4 Department of Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 644a Scaife Hall, 3550 Terrace Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15261

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Critical Care 2005, 9:538-542  doi:10.1186/cc3894

Published: 31 October 2005


Contemporary intensive care unit (ICU) medicine has complicated the issue of what constitutes death in a life support environment. Not only is the distinction between sapient life and prolongation of vital signs blurred but the concept of death itself has been made more complex. The demand for organs to facilitate transplantation promotes a strong incentive to define clinical death in a manner that most effectively supplies that demand. We consider the problem of defining death in the ICU as a function of viable organ availability for transplantation