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May 6, 1968

Medical vs Legal Definitions of Death

Author Affiliations

From the Washburn University School of Law, Topeka, Kan.

JAMA. 1968;204(6):423-425. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03140190005002

Legal and medical definitions of death are not characterized by intrinsic uniformity or scientific exactness. The legal definition of death is also not necessarily identical with the ordinary medical definition of death and is inconsistent with extraordinary medical definitions. The legal definition appears as an inclusive concept, involving cessation of all vital functions, cessation of respiration, cessation of circulation, and impossibility of resuscitation. Potential conflicts should be anticipated and resolved through interprofessional cooperative action, with emphasis on precise definitions identical in both law and medicine. An interdisciplinary definition of death is proposed as a basis for further discussion.