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Brain Death in Switzerland 1960–2000, Handling a Medical Innovation
  1. Ulrich Troehler*
  1. Director, Institut fuer Geschichte der Medizin, Universitaet Freiburg, Stefan-Meier-Strasse 26, D – 79104 Freiburg, Germany; E-mail: ulrich.troehler{at}



Innovations obviously create new opportunities. However, they also lead to uncertainties in comparison with the status quo ante. Since its conceptualization began in the 1960s, brain death has been viewed controversially in many cultural settings (Pernick 1999; Schneider 1999; Schöne-Seifert 1999; Schlich 2001), particularly in relation to organ transplantation (Wiesemann 2001; Lindemann 2002; Lock 2002; Manzei 2002). Historical citations have been used by both the proponents and opponents of the concept of brain death, often enough without knowledge of the (con)text, in order to underpin their arguments and/or to discredit those of their adversaries. The most current ones are that brain death was already around in 1800 or, conversely, that it was invented after 1968 to increase the harvest of organs for transplantation (Schlich 1999).

This article summarizes my research, along with that of Bellanger and Steinbrecher, on the development of the debate in Switzerland. It is based on

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