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May 8, 2018

Defining Death—Making Sense of the Case of Jahi McMath

Author Affiliations
  • 1Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2018;319(18):1859-1860. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.3441

Clearly distinguishing between the living and the dead is an essential function in any society, necessary for determining when people may be buried, when their wills may be executed, when efforts to keep them alive may be terminated, and when they may donate their organs, among other issues. The recent and ongoing case of Jahi McMath has raised some doubts about how this distinction is made in the United States.1-3