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September 3, 1982

Maternal Brain Death: An Ethicist's Thoughts

JAMA. 1982;248(9):1102-1103. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330090072037

Case problems in medicine brought on by new technologies often raise complex conceptual, philosophical, legal, and ethical issues when, initially, only clinical issues seem to be present. Those pressing for the priority of a single disciplinary viewpoint to elucidate these complicated issues may be in for surprises. Their perspectives may be far too limited; their answers, far too simple.

The intriguing pair of cases presented by Dillon and colleagues elsewhere in this issue (p 1089) provides an example. They present two cases of pregnant women with severe, and in one case apparently total and irreversible, brain damage. The possibility of substantially improving fetal survival by maintaining maternal function for a relatively short period raises issues of practical importance.

The authors, however, sometimes seem confused about whether a patient with a dead brain is living or dead. Although they claim that "careful application of the definition of 'brain death' will allow