Dead and/or Alive: ‘Official’ and Vernacular Discourses on Brain Death, Organ Transfer, Belief, Knowledge, Experience, and Health Care Ethics

Bonnie B. O'Connor (Alpert Medical School of Brown University, emerita)

In 1968 a committee of the Harvard Medical School comprising 13 white men (10 MDs, one theologian, one law professor, and a historian of science) published a definition of “Brain Death,” expanding the common definition of death to include new criteria. This presentation addresses assumptions inherent in the committee composition and their definition as these have shaped ensuing decades of official public discourse on death, organ transplant medicine, law, public policy, and bioethics – contrasting these with vernacular responses to and experiences with family members on life support, and recently increasing family challenges to having a loved one declared “Brain Dead.”

Part of Don Yoder Lecture on Religious Folklife and Folk Belief: Bonnie O'Connor, Thursday, November 02, 6:30 pm–7:30 pm