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May 9, 1980

In Response to an Opposing Viewpoint on Brain Death

JAMA. 1980;243(18):1808-1809. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03300440014013

To the Editor.—  "Brain Death—An Opposing Viewpoint" by Byrne et al (242:1985, 1979) is an attempt to refute an article (238:1651, 1977) in which we developed scientific, theological, ethical, and legal support for use of the brain death concept. In our article we sustained the position that total and irreversible cessation of brain function as determined by the Harvard criteria (205:337, 1968) or their more recent modifications (237:982, 1977) is equivalent to total destruction of the brain and hence tantamount to functional or physiological decapitation, a condition that most lay and religious ethicists—and indeed most persons—can equate with death. The article by Byrne et al presents arguments that are weak at best and, in some instances, approach absurdity. It uses the language of science to plead a theological position against use of the brain death concept but fails to state clearly what can, with certainty, be equated with death, except