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A New Look at Death

Robert J. Joynt, MD, PhD
JAMA. 1984;252(5):680-682. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350050068032.
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Death concerns all of us and is a subject of interest as old as humankind. It is, therefore, surprising that a whole new look at death should have been initiated less than 20 years ago with publication of a report from the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School.1 Reports from committees are, in many instances, deservedly ignored. It is equally surprising that a set of guidelines set up by one institution should have such wide acceptance. The ad hoc committee was chaired by Henry K. Beecher, MD, an anesthesiologist, and various disciplines were represented: neurology, psychiatry, neurosurgery, electroencephalography, theology, and law.

There were two reasons for the report. First, the benignity of nature is such that the organs of the body, which are normally interdependent, usually die together. Unfortunately, the nervous system may not fit into this scheme. The result is a dead brain or a damaged


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