What Does a Definition of Death Do?

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Laura Specker Sullivan


In his article, “Defining Death: Beyond Biology,” John Lizza argues in favor of a civil definition of death, according to which the potential for consciousness and social interaction marks us as the “kind of being that we are.” In this commentary, I critically discuss this approach to the bioethical debate on the definition of death. I question whether Lizza’s account is based on a full recognition of the “practical, moral, religious, philosophical, and cultural considerations” at play in this debate. I further propose that a truly ethical debate on definitions of death ought to concentrate on how different definitions of death are used in diverse contexts – what definitions of death do – and focus less on who has the right definition of death for all situations.


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How to Cite
Sullivan, Laura Specker. 2018. “What Does a Definition of Death Do?”. Diametros 55 (55):63-67. https://doi.org/10.13153/diam.1176.
Special Topic – Defining Death: Beyond Biology
Author Biography

Laura Specker Sullivan, Harvard Medical School

Laura Specker Sullivan, PhDCenter for BioethicsHarvard Medical School641 Huntington AvenueBoston, MA 02115

E-mail: Laura_SpeckerSullivan@hms.harvard.edu

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