February 22-25, 2000
Since ancient times, man has pondered the mystery of his own death. It seemed that by knowing the meaning of his death, he would be prepared to understand the reason for his life. For ages, people considered life to exist as long as an individual was breathing. It was later realized that respiration was a means of maintaining the heart, which circulated the blood. The focus then turned to cardio-respiratory function. But, in the middle of this century, physicians became aware that the brain required much more energy than other organs and that, if its needs were not met, it would cease to function, while other parts of the body (requiring less energy) might regain their activity provided that respiration was supported by intensive care. The result would be a dead brain in a viable body. French neurologists and neurophysiologists documented this at the end of the 1950s. Is such a patient alive or dead?
Although some decades have passed, there are still worldwide controversies about a concept of human death on neurological grounds. There are also disagreements on the diagnostic criteria for brain death, whether clinical alone or clinical plus ancillary tests. Moreover, some scholars who were strong defenders of a brain-based standard of death are now favoring a circulatory-respiratory standard.
This was the scene we faced in 1992 and 1996 when we convoked colleagues from around the world to attend the First and Second International Symposia on Brain Death. These were truly remarkable gatherings of an impressive number of the most outstanding personalities in the field. Scientific discussions were enriched by multi-disciplinary approaches covering most brain-death-related issues. To be sure, not all differences of opinion were resolved in the debates; therefore, we are far from a final consensus on the subject of human death. The Proceedings of the 96 Symposium are available as a 300-page book edited by Elsevier Science B.V.
We are pleased to announce the holding of the THIRD INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON COMA AND DEATH at the Havana International Conference Center on February 22-25, 2000. Along with the symposium will be held the "Third Meeting of the Network on the Definition of Death" of the International Association of Bioethics. Please mark February 22-25, 2000 on your calendar and inform us if you would like to be included on our mailing list.
Our main goal is to provide a suitable scientific platform to discuss all topics related to human death. Cubans, as hosts, will sincerely offer a warm hospitality. This small Caribbean Island, with the greenness of its countryside surrounded by an incredible blue sea, will provide a most suitable venue to remind us that the main motivation for discussing death is the betterment of life.
Calixto Machado, MD, Ph.D
President of the Symposium