Unpublished Papers

Defining Death: Why All Fifty States Should Adopt the Uniform Definition of Death Act with a Religious Exception

Rachel Delaney, Maquette University

Abstract

This article addresses the tension between the secular, American definition of death and the Jewish law definition of death. While the definition of death has been debated separately in both Jewish and American legal scholarship, the secular and Jewish law definitions of death have not been thoroughly analyzed in relation to one another. The secular definition of death—irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain—conflicts with the Jewish law definition of death—irreversible cessation of respiration. The conflict presents a First Amendment Free Exercise Clause challenge because state laws with strict secular definitions of death preclude Orthodox Jews from practicing Judaism in their final stages of life. This article argues that each state should adopt a definition of death statute that acknowledges the competing goals at issue in the legal definition of death—the recognition of the personal and private nature of death versus the accomplishment of secular and state objectives. New York State offers such a law by including a religious exception to the secular definition of death. Not only does the religious exception provide comfort to families in sad and serious times, but the exception is required by the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and the right to privacy, and the exception does not significantly interfere with state interests.

Suggested Citation

Rachel Delaney. 2010. "Defining Death: Why All Fifty States Should Adopt the Uniform Definition of Death Act with a Religious Exception" ExpressO
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/rachel_delaney/1

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