Death of the Brain Is Not the Death of the Human Being

Charles C. Camosy, PhD


September 23, 2013

In This Article

What About a Fetus?

We see this at the beginning of life as well. Singer rightly points out that both the early-term and late-term fetus is clearly a living member of the species Homo sapiens, but many millions refuse to take the next step and claim that the prenatal human organism is also a person. Singer holds up both of these cases as prime examples of Western culture heading toward a new "Copernican Revolution." This time, instead of rejecting the theological idea that the earth is the center of the physical universe, we in the West are rejecting the theological idea that the human being is the center of the moral universe.

While Singer is quite right to criticize those who use the definition of death merely as a means of procuring organs, I'm not sure the medical community will adopt his philosophical definition of life and death. Indeed, I argue that our culture should think long and hard about following him down the road of rejecting the Christian definition of the person as a living member of the species Homo sapiens.

While this may jibe with some of our intuitions with regard to brain-dead and prenatal human beings, it forces us to say the same about newborn infants and mentally disabled persons. Singer, in an example of remarkable (if frightening) consistency, has actually admitted that his view requires that neither babies nor those with serious disabilities are persons with a right to life.

Like brain-dead and prenatal human beings, newborns and the mentally disabled also fail the rationality and self-awareness test. Hopefully the medical community of the developed West wishes to avoid heading down a Singerian path. If so, we ought to keep and strengthen the view that a living member of the species Homo sapiens is a full person and therefore a patient with a right to life -- even if their brain is dead.


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