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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 142 No. 3334 (2012)

Controversies in the determination of death: perspectives from Switzerland

  • Settimio Monteverde
  • Annette Rid
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2012;142:w13667


In 1968, an Ad Hoc committee at the Harvard Medical School advanced new criteria for determining death. It proposed that patients in irreversible coma with no discernible central nervous system activity were actually dead. The committee paved the way for the “whole brain” definition of death, which has reached broad public acceptance and legal enactment in many countries. Despite this, the philosophical and ethical debate about the “whole brain” definition of death is far from being closed. This paper analyses the ongoing controversy and evaluates the recent revision of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences guidelines for determining death.


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