Influential ULC considering dangerous changes to definition of death

By Jennifer Popik, JD, Federal Legislative Director and Director of the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) is an organization of legal experts that, according to its mission statement, “provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived and well-drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.”  In 1981, the ULC adopted the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA), which set out criteria related to determining death (whole brain death), based on biological criteria. The UDDA has been enacted by most states.  

Determining the legal definition of death has sweeping implications on various areas of law, such as organ transplantation, and whether to provide ongoing medical treatment.

This year, the ULC is considering changes that would transform determinations of death from an objective biological standard (while currently imperfectly applied throughout the country) to a standard that is inappropriately subjective and reliant on potentially discriminatory quality-of-life judgments. If the changes to the UDDA are adopted, many states would enact new conforming legislation.

Click here to read the letter sent to the Uniform Law Commission which explains NRLC’s objections in detail.