Defining life from death: Problems with the somatic integration definition of life

Journal article


Blackshaw, B. and Rodger, D. (2019). Defining life from death: Problems with the somatic integration definition of life. Bioethics. https://doi.org/10.1111/bioe.12718
AuthorsBlackshaw, B. and Rodger, D.
Abstract

To determine when the life of a human organism begins, Mark T. Brown has developed the somatic integration definition of life. Derived from diagnostic criteria for human death, Brown’s account requires the presence of a life‐regulation internal control system for an entity to be considered a living organism. According to Brown, the earliest point at which a developing human could satisfy this requirement is at the beginning of the fetal stage, and so the embryo is not regarded as a living human organism. This, Brown claims, has significant bioethical implications for both abortion and embryo experimentation. Here, we dispute the cogency of Brown’s derivation. Diagnostic criteria for death are used to determine when an organism irreversibly ceases functioning as an integrated whole and may vary significantly depending on how developed the organism is. Brown’s definition is derived from a specific definition of death applicable to postnatal human beings, which is insufficient for generating a general definition for human organismal life. We have also examined the bioethical implications of Brown’s view, and have concluded that they are not as significant as he believes. Whether the embryo is classified as a human organism is of peripheral interest—a far more morally relevant question is whether the embryo is a biological individual with an identity that is capable of persisting during development.

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Blackshaw, B and Rodger, D. (2019) Defining life from death: problems with the somatic integration definition of life. Bioethics Which will be published in final form at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14678519. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

KeywordsLife; Human organism; Death; Embryo research; Abortion; Fetal rights; Persons
Year2019
JournalBioethics
PublisherWiley
ISSN0269-9702
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1111/bioe.12718
Web address (URL)https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bioe.12718
Publication dates
Online03 Feb 2020
Publication process dates
Accepted17 Dec 2019
Deposited07 Jan 2020
Accepted author manuscript
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Open
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