Disputing death: Brain death in the courts

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Donnelly, Mary
Lyons, Barry
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Cambridge University Press
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Death by neurological criteria (DNC) has remained controversial since its introduction over 50 years ago. Objections to the diagnosis of DNC have been coming before the courts in various jurisdictions, including at least seven recent challenges before the UK courts. In responding to these challenges, the UK courts have expressed no doubts as to the status of DNC and have affirmed that following a diagnosis of DNC, the matter of best interests is no longer relevant. Yet, the courts have also, tacitly, acknowledged that DNC is not quite the same as cardio-pulmonary death. This paper begins by setting out the origins of DNC as a medico-legal construction, and its ongoing controversies. It then analyses the treatment of DNC, including authorisation of DNC testing, by the UK courts. It shows that the courts have been operating a form of ad hoc reasonable accommodation of different views of DNC but have done so without normative engagement. The paper argues that the courts should recognise that DNC disputes are not simply concerned with whether, as a matter of fact, DNC has been correctly diagnosed, but also raise profound questions about rights and interests, both of families and of the DNC dead.
Health law , DNC , Brainstem death , Best interests
Donnelly, M. and Lyons, B. (2023) 'Disputing death: Brain death in the courts', Legal Studies, 43(2), pp. 351-369. doi: 10.1017/lst.2022.45
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