Brain Death And The Right To Die
On this date in 1968, the landmark A Definition of Irreversible Coma: Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to Examine the Definition of Brain Death appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Physician and anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher, a 1932 graduate of Harvard Medical School who trained under surgeon Edward Churchill at Massachusetts General Hospital, was fascinated with the dilemma surrounding a hopelessly unconscious patient. Beecher formed an informal committee to study the issue, writing a report that probed the issue of when life actually ends. The report attempted to detach the issue of brain death from the growing practice of organ transplantation, even though Beechers private papers link the two. The report helped to foster the then-new field of modern biomedical ethics. Controversy still swirls today around the issue of when someone is considered brain dead, and when artificial means of life support should be removed.
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