The concept has been put forth that "brain death" constitutes the true death of the patient, regardless of supported cardiorespiratory function. This premise has not been uniformly accepted by the medical profession or the laity.
The study presented evaluates opinions of 100 lay persons and 100 physicians as to their concept of death. In addition, a group of 70 freshman medical students were interviewed representing the transition from the lay to the medical orientation.
Forty-six percent of the physicians, forty-two percent of the freshman medical students and sixty percent of the lay people did not consider brain death an adequate definition of cessation of life. It would appear that the classic concept of death is ingrained in the majority of the laity as well as a sizable percentage of the medical profession. This has important connotations for the field of organ transplantation and for individual situations which evoke crucial decisions about the cessation of artificial support of individuals in various clinical states.
It is important that the medical profession as a whole assess the facts and standards which have been recommended from reliable sources on the subject of irrevocable death, so that some unification of thought will be realized. Only then can public education proceed, minimizing confusion, doubt, and misplaced hope.