A Biological Theory of Death: Characterization, Justification, and Implications

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Michael Nair-Collins


John P. Lizza has long been a major figure in the scholarly literature on criteria for death. His searching and penetrating critiques of the dominant biological paradigm, and his defense of a theory of death of the person as a psychophysical entity, have both significantly advanced the literature. In this special issue, Lizza reinforces his critiques of a strictly biological approach. In my commentary, I take up Lizza’s challenge regarding a biological concept of death. He is certainly right to point out that science is not value-free; however, this does not imply that there cannot be a characterization of biological death that can be shown to be superior to other concepts. After characterizing and justifying such a theory of biological death, I show that patients who meet the diagnostic criteria for brain death are unequivocally biologically alive. However, with respect to concepts of personhood and related ideas (as opposed to biology), I urge the acceptance of a pluralism of such concepts for matters of public policy.


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How to Cite
Nair-Collins, Michael. 2018. “A Biological Theory of Death: Characterization, Justification, and Implications”. Diametros 55 (55):27-43. https://doi.org/10.13153/diam.1174.
Special Topic – Defining Death: Beyond Biology
Author Biography

Michael Nair-Collins, Florida State University College of Medicine

Michael Nair-Collins, PhDFlorida State University College of MedicineDepartment of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine1115 West Call StreetTallahassee, FL 32312USA

E-mail: michael.nair-collins@med.fsu.edu

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