According to the established criterion of brain-death, death has occurred when the brain has ceased functioning irreversibly, even though the human organism as a whole might still continue to function. Why is this so? This book aims to show that this criterion of death cannot be justified except where it is related to a mentalistic definition of life. A mentalistic definition of the end and the beginning of a life finds strong support via the mentalistic theory of self-identity which is the most generally accepted answer to the question of what we essentially are.
Brain-related death criteria require ontological revision. This is so since according to brain-related death-criteria not every functioning organism is per se a living being. Brain-related death criteria make sense only if they go together with a mentalistic definition of the end and the beginning of a life.
A mentalistic life-definition is superior to an organismic life-definition. This is so because a functioning organism is not necessarily equal to be a living being. We are living beings. The best answer to the question of what we essentially are seems to be the embodied-mind account of existence. We are essentially psycho-physical unities. Which is to say that a life lasts as long as such a unity exists. At least for those beings who have a brain, brain-related death-criteria seem to be the best death-criteria available.
Brain-related death-criteria require a mentalistic definition of death. A mentalistic definition of death requires brain-related death criteria.
Definitions and criteria
Definitions are two-dimensional. The dimension of intension determines which qualities an entity must have in order to belong to the extension of a concept. The extension of a concept is given by all those entities that fulfil that which is required by the intension of the relevant concept.
One definition might go along with different criteria
The symmetry of the end and the beginning of a life
The end of a life and the beginning of a life require one and the same definition.
Critique of the expression “brain-death”
It is not brains that die, but living beings.
Critique of the concept of “living organs”, “living tissue”, “living matter”
Not only brains do not die, neither do tissues, body parts or body cells and matter.
Life in spite of “braindeath”?
Organismic integration in organisms whose brains have irreversibly ceased to function
In the same manner that organs such as brains do not die, they do not live. However, if we accept a brain-related criterion for the end of a human life, we should also accept a brain-related criterion for the beginning of a human life.
If (and only if) we assume that the brain-parts of an anencephalic do not realise consciousness, there is a functioning human organism but not a living human being. However, the brain-parts of many anencephalics seem to realise at least a weak form of consciousness – even though there is no fore brain.
Persistent Vegetative State
After I have died because my brain has irreversibly ceased to realise consciousness, there is no one there to survive me. Even though my organism might still be a functioning organism, it cannot be alive. Those who are of the opinion that my functioning organism is alive after I have passed away apply two definitions of the end of a life at the same time. Due to the vagueness of its intension, the extension of the expression “living being” is rendered as vague. This contravenes the idea of a definition.
Organisms and living beings
At the level of conceptualisation I suggest that we differ between mindless organisms and living beings.
Plants and brain-related death-criteria
If plants have no mental qualities they are not living beings.
I continue to exist even if I cease to be a person. When I started to exist I was not a person but a living being with subpersonal consciousness. I will continue to exist as long as my brain realises consciousness however weak or simple it may be.
Psycho-physical unity is the most basic expression that qualifies what a living being is. There could be living beings that are not conscious organisms. However, as long as we assume that there are no disembodied minds, every living being will be a psycho-physical unity. A unity that ceases to exist when the physis ceases to support consciousness.
If it is so that my brain does not realise consciousness intermittently (perhaps when I am in a deep sleep), then I do not exist for those stretches of time. Intermittent non-existence does not equal death. As soon as my brain starts to realise consciousness again, I will continue to exist. Death is eternal non-existence.
Does the concept of an “embryonic potential” challenge the symmetry of the end and the beginning of a life?
Some philosophers admit that the irreversible end of a functioning brain indicates the end of a life. According to them, however, a life begins before a brain starts to support consciousness. They say so because they take into consideration a so called embryonic potential. While the “brain-dead” adult is said to be dead because he has no such potential, the embryo that has no brain as yet is said to be alive because of an alleged potential. This chapter is dedicated to demonstrating that the embryonic potential is an ontological fallacy.
The destruction of organisms and the killing of living beings
Once we differ between mere organisms and living beings, we have to envisage that it does not make sense to talk about the killing of mere organisms. Only living beings are entities that can be killed.
Corpses, piety and morals
Intermediary considerations: The question for the end and the beginning of our existence and the question of self-identity
Do brain-related death-criteria and the mentalistic definition of death contravene basic intuitions?
Brain-related death-criteria contradict basic intuitions because according to them not every functioning human organisms represents a living human being. Brain-related death-criteria serve our intuitions because according to them life and soul (consciousness) are interrelated.
The thought experiment of non-organismic conscious entities
The rare phenomenon of two people who share one organism seems to prove that none of us essentially is his or her organism.
In a thought experiment I can change my body and remain the same person. This seems to prove that I am the – stream of – consciousness that is realised by my brain rather than my functioning organism.
Subjects of life and subjects of death. The organism as “something”. The living being as “someone”.
Consciousness – a minimal consensus
The realisation of consciousness as an ontic hiatus and signum for living beings
Brain-related criteria of death do not imply a reification of the concept of “living being”
While molecular biology conveys the conviction that there is nothing special about life, the mentalistic definition of death confirms the idea that living beings cannot be reduced to chemistry.
There is uncertainty as to which parts of a brain are necessary for there to be at least weak consciousness. For this reason we should not give up whole-brain death criteria.