Starting July 21, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) will be meeting to consider two options that would expand the legal definition of death. The first option is what currently exists in the Uniform Determination of Death Act and includes loss of total brain function, not just the brain stem. Dr. Heidi Klessig, a retired anesthesiologist and authority on clinical death, explains what the options are and how families and patients can best prepare themselves.
The American Academy of Neurology has petitioned the ULC to revise the legal definition of death. Option one uses the word “irreversible,” and Option 2 uses the word “permanent.” Klessig says Option 2 will give hospitals and doctors huge discretion in whether to give or continue life-sustaining treatment. Klessig will discuss cases of patients, such as Zack Dunlap, who survived sustained unresponsiveness and went on to describe their level of consciousness during that time.
Canada has now adopted provisions similar to “Option 2.” Two factors may be driving the change in the U.S.: the live donor organ transplants where patients need to be alive for their organs to be harvested and given to others (i.e., heart, lung) and legal liability, where an expanded definition of death might potentially protect hospital defendants in wrongful death actions.
Key links for patients and families:
Redefining Definition of Clinical Death Under Consideration, Kevin Stone, Health Care News, February 24, 2023
Procedure to Harvest Live Organs Raises Red Flags, Kevin Stone, Health Care News, January 6, 2023
Would I Receive a Transplant, Heidi Klessig, M.D., American Thinker, April 22, 2023
Canada Updates Death Determination Standards. Is America Next?, Heidi Klessig, M.D., Health Care News, July 24, 2023