An increased demand for organ transplants and donations has complicated the lines between life and death while making the judgment more crucial than ever, Elizabeth Price Foley explains.

Price Foley Quote

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” While our bank accounts are reliable indicators that tax time has come and gone, indicators of death aren’t always so clear.

Declaring death is important for several reasons, including for the purposes of organ donation. As transplants become easier, demand for organs has increased faster than supply. To meet this growing need, the industry must find transplantable organs beyond willing individuals indicating their post-death wishes – typically after cardiopulmonary death.

The other option, based on current legal definitions, is donation upon brain death. The definition is clear – brain death is the irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem ¬– but the application much more fuzzy.

Foley points to two main ambiguities in the real-world setting – testing and training – that need to be standardized for us to have complete confidence in the practice of using organs from brain dead patients. Until then, we’re left to the judgment of the jurisdictions where we die.


Watch Foley’s full talk here: