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The Case for Reasonable Accommodation of Conscientious Objections to Declarations of Brain Death

Journal title
Journal of bioethical inquiry
Publication year
2016
Author(s)
Johnson, L. S.
Pages
105-15
Volume
13
Number
1

Since its inception in 1968, the concept of whole-brain death has been contentious, and four decades on, controversy concerning the validity and coherence of whole-brain death continues unabated. Although whole-brain death is legally recognized and medically entrenched in the United States and elsewhere, there is reasonable disagreement among physicians, philosophers, and the public concerning whether brain death is really equivalent to death as it has been traditionally understood. A handful of states have acknowledged this plurality of viewpoints and enacted "conscience clauses" that require "reasonable accommodation" of religious and moral objections to the determination of death by neurological criteria. This paper argues for the universal adoption of "reasonable accommodation" policies using the New Jersey statute as a model, in light of both the ongoing controversy and the recent case of Jahi McMath, a child whose family raised religious objections to a declaration of brain death. Public policies that accommodate reasonable, divergent viewpoints concerning death provide a practical and compassionate way to resolve those conflicts that are the most urgent, painful, and difficult to reconcile.

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