Intended for healthcare professionals


Ronald E Cranford

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 20 July 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:203

Bioethicist-neurologist who helped define vegetative state and later stood up to a president

In the late 1960s American medicine was becoming aware of the dilemmas arising from its therapeutic successes. Intensive care technology prolonged life, but doctors began asking, “At what cost?” Antibiotics saved lives of the young and vital, but also prolonged the lives of the frail and demented. Heart transplantation demanded a precise definition of death in order for hearts to be removed from patients who were dead.

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It was also a time when newly trained doctors were drafted en masse and sent to Vietnam to witness the agony of young soldiers brought wounded from the battlefield. One of those doctors was Ron Cranford.

Upon his return to the United States in 1968, he entered neurology and simultaneously became enamoured with the writings of the theologian-philosopher Joseph Fletcher. Fletcher's seminal book Situation Ethics proposed a pragmatic approach to ethical behaviour based on the “primary principle of acting in the most loving way.” Fletcher argued, “Love is not something we have or are, it is something we do.” Cranford …

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