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July 3, 1972

Harvard Criteria: An Appraisal

JAMA. 1972;221(1):65. doi:10.1001/jama.1972.03200140049014

In 1968 The Journal published a set of criteria for determining when brain death has occurred.1 Known popularly as the "Harvard Criteria for the Determination of Death," they actually are concerned only with attempts to define irreversible coma. That report was occasioned by two urgent phenomena of the time: (1) refinements in technology of supporting life had led to increased resuscitative efforts that occasionally had only partial success, that is, only functions of pulse and respiration remained, and these were totally machine-dependent; and (2) increased activity in the transplantation of vital organs precipitated a dilemma regarding methods of obtaining these organs.

After four years of public debate and controversy, both within and without the medical profession, we are again looking at the "Harvard Criteria," this time in a report by the Task Force on Death and Dying of the Institute of Society, Ethics, and the Life Sciences (p 48).

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