Human Exceptionalism

New Jersey May Weaken “Brain Death” Standards

New Jersey is pondering weakening the medical standards for declaring death by neurological criteria, known popularly as “brain death.” The New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners wants to permit one doctor, instead of the current two, to declare brain death. And, the doctor wouldn’t even have to be a neuro-specialist.

This would be a terrible move. People are already antzy about brain death, and many worry that people are being decared dead before their actual demise. (I receive desperate e-mails from such people regularly.) Having a second doctor involved in the process–particularly one who is a neurological specialist–makes sense, both as a fail safe to prevent mistakes and just to promote trust in the system. We saw that recently in Kansas when doubt about a proper declaration of death was settled by obtaining a second opinion by a neurologist.

Organ transplant professionals are desperate to gain access to more organs in order to save lives. But the New Jersey proposal would undermine faith in the system, and thus would have the exact opposite result.