[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
November 25, 1968

Public Attitudes and the Diagnosis of Death

Author Affiliations

From the Harry S Truman Laboratory (Drs. Arnold and Martin), and the Institute for Community Studies (Dr. Zimmerman), Kansas City (Mo) General Hospital and University of Missouri Medical School, Kansas City.

JAMA. 1968;206(9):1949-1954. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03150090025004

The diagnosis of death has become a public concern for at least two reasons: (1) The use of donors in single-organ transplants results in death of the donor if it has not already occurred. (2) The use of life-support systems has frequently raised the public question of how and when death is determined. A historical review of selected lay attitudes toward the accuracy of the diagnosis of death suggests that under certain conditions, great public apprehension over this problem has occurred. One might expect this to be the case again if these problems are not carefully handled today. A study of current public attitudes suggests that certain types of reassurance will be necessary today if single-organ transplants become more widespread or if the basis of the diagnosis is substantially altered from that with which most of the public is familiar.