J Pediatr Intensive Care 2017; 06(04): 245-247
DOI: 10.1055/s-0037-1604014
Review Article
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

Controversy in the Determination of Death: Cultural Perspectives

Katherine Potter
1  Division of Pediatric Critical Care, Department of Pediatrics, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky, United States
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

02 May 2017

28 May 2017

Publication Date:
27 June 2017 (eFirst)


The definitions of death have changed throughout recorded history to include not just cardiac death but death by neurological criteria as well. Given the many cultures present in the world, it comes as no surprise that declaring death takes many forms. In the Western world, brain death has gained common acceptance (though not universal), while other cultures and religions have struggled with this issue, especially as it surrounds the controversy of donated organs. There is legal precedent to support death by neurological criteria, as well as support for hospital systems and physicians to terminate somatic support of the brain-dead patient; however, these laws differ greatly from country to country. When dealing with a controversial topic, differing laws, and grief-laden families, it becomes especially crucial that health care staffs are educated regarding varying cultural beliefs surrounding death. In the majority of cases, with kindness and compassion, common ground between science and social perspectives can be found, leading to resolution of care for this group of patients.