Research Project by Gonzalo Díaz Cobacho and Alberto Molina Pérez: “Pluralism and death: ethical challenges and attitudes of professionals in relation to the diversity of criteria in the determination of death”

Gonzalo Díaz Cobacho (PhD student) and Alberto Molina Pérez (researcher “Juan de la Cierva Formación”) have been awarded a research grant from the Fundació Víctor Grífols i Lucas. Their project, which is entitled “Pluralism and death: ethical challenges and attitudes of professionals in relation to the diversity of criteria in the determination of death” has been selected for one of the 6 scholarships awarded.

The formal ceremony is scheduled for next October 21, at 7pm at Casa Convalescència (c / Sant Antoni M. Claret, 171 – Barcelona).

Link to the research grants page: https://www.fundaciogrifols.org/es/web/fundacio/research-grants

Abstract

Since 1968, experts debate without agreeing on the definition, criteria and tests to determine human death. The origin of the controversy is the introduction of a new diagnostic criterion in the legislation of many countries: brain death. Some authors argue that death is a biological phenomenon and that it depends on neurological functions; others defend that it is a biological phenomenon, but that it does not depend on the brain; on the other hand, there are those who consider that human death is not only biological, but also includes other dimensions such as the notion of personal identity; finally, there are those who affirm that death is not a biological fact, but a social construct.

This unresolved controversy contributes to the misunderstanding and uncertainty of both the public and the professionals regarding the determination of death. In addition, cases of people wrongly declared in brain death despite meeting the diagnostic criteria undermine confidence in the reliability of the medicine and constitute an obstacle to organ donation.

This project aims to explore the possibility of pluralism in the determination of death from the point of view of bioethics. Pluralism is a theoretical option so far little studied, although it is implicitly included in the legislation of many countries. Indeed, Spanish law admits a duality of diagnostic criteria to determine human death: neurological (brain death) and cardiorespiratory (cardiorespiratory death). Other countries, such as Japan, allow their citizens to choose the criteria of death according to their religious or ideological beliefs. Would it be possible to apply that right in Spain? Would it be justified to introduce new diagnostic criteria apart from the two already existing? What impact would pluralism have on society and for the transplant system?

To investigate these questions, we propose on the one hand a theoretical research on the fundamentals and the bioethical acceptability of pluralism, and on the other hand an empirical investigation on the attitudes of professionals about the different criteria of death and on their acceptance or rejection of pluralism.

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