Of Brain Death and Climate Change

 “It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Now, mostly dead is slightly alive.”   ~ Miracle Max

As you bundle up, you can’t suppress the wry grin.

First, there’s the plummeting temperatures which never seem to make it back up to seasonal lows. Then, the snow keeps coming down, and down, and down. And that old pair of long underwear in the dresser somewhere? You’re digging it out, and maybe buying a second pair. And then a third.

At this point, you can’t help grinning—maybe even chuckling—because the conditions outside are in such stark contrast to all those dire warnings we used to get about global warming. “Bring it on,” we say to ourselves now—but not out loud. Our shivering and senses might suggest that global warming is a bunch of malarkey, but we keep such thoughts to ourselves. I mean, we don’t want anybody thinking we’re nut jobs or intellectual cretins! No, sir!

But this isn’t a rant about climate change in any case. People way smarter than me think it’s legit, and I’ll grant them the benefit of the doubt. Still, it is difficult to take them too seriously in the winter—at least ’round these parts. Al Gore and the government, researchers and the media keep telling us one thing; our numb fingers and toes tell us another. That’s not very scientific, I know, but it is experience—it is real—and it does affect our willingness to buy what the experts are pushing.

Put another way, my cold-consciousness coming up against the global warming ascendancy represents a significant aesthetical reservation—aesthetic in the old sense of the word, denoting sensory experience as opposed to abstract knowledge. What my senses tell me seems to contradict reason—or at least the reason of those in the know. And that’s why those in the know have to keep telling us global warming is real, because our senses are telling us something so different.

This is the very same dilemma I face when considering so-called “brain death”—a phenomenon that has been in the news a bunch lately. “Brain death” is shorthand for death determined by neurological criteria, and unlike the traditional definition that relied on cardiopulmonary evidence—no heart beat, for instance, and no breathing—declaring death neurologically is downright tricky. It relies on human judgment to make a decision regarding an ailing individual’s brain function: Is it there? How much? Is it all gone? And then, there’s this kicker: Even if it is determined to be all gone (the essence of brain death criteria), the person’s heart will keep beating on its own, as long as the lungs are mechanically assisted to breathe.

We’re left, then, with a “dead” brain in a body being perfused with oxygen-rich blood by a living heart. The individual is non-responsive, but his limbs are supple, and his skin, pink and warm—it even heals when it’s wounded. Is such an individual really dead? It’s hard to believe, and that’s why the experts have to keep telling us such people are “dead”: Just like climate change, our senses tell us the exact opposite.

This surreal realm of defining death neurologically regularly leads to the kinds of absurd situations that we’ve been hearing about in recent weeks. For example, there’s the “brain dead” pregnant woman in Texas whose family wanted her taken off “life” support, but whom the hospital “kept alive” until recently for the sake of her unborn baby. And it was the reverse problem for the “brain dead” teen in California whom her family wanted to take home and care for, but whom the hospital insisted be taken off “life” support until a court intervened.

Note that I keep bracketing words and phrases with quotation marks. That’s because the semantics of brain death don’t lend themselves very well to deliberation without constant clarifications and re-definition of terms. “Life support” is a good example. Think about it: If a person is dead—really dead, “gone to meet her maker” dead—then what purpose does “life support” serve? It’s grisly, almost Frankensteinian, to consider what kind of “life” is being supported.

The quotation marks are also necessary because, even after almost a half-century of neurologically defined death, nobody is quite sure when it applies. Consequently, and not surprisingly, “mistakes” (there’s those quote marks again!) are made all the time—including, most recently, that teen girl I mentioned above. Her name is Jahi McMath, a thirteen-year-old from Oakland who suffered complications following a tonsillectomy. Declared brain dead by physicians, the hospital demanded that her plug be pulled. However, once the family finally got her home, and began providing care denied her in the hospital, she started to make definite progress—and was apparently very much alive.

We can’t blame the hospital, for Jahi was “technically” dead according to the experts—and hospitals are meant for living people, not dead ones. Instead, one can legitimately ask: Did the docs who declared her dead make a mistake? Or was she miraculously revived? Who knows?

In any case, situations like Jahi’s—and there are plenty of them—throw the whole brain death idea into doubt, and personal aesthetic experience only further undermines trust in the abstract assertions of diagnosing authorities. As a former oncology and hospice nurse. I’ve been around a lot of dead bodies, and I can assure you that there’s no question they’re dead. Cold and stiff, corpses can make you uncomfortable, but you don’t wonder if they’re “slightly alive.”

“Brain dead” bodies, though, aren’t like that, and consequently defining death has become quite controversial. The Magisterium understandably defers to the medical community when it comes to defining death, but that itself is the crux of the problem: The medical community is divided on the issue, as are Catholic bioethicists and moral theologians.

Nobody doubts the old death criteria—lack of heart beat, lack of spontaneous breathing, and other obvious, objective signs—but there’s a worrisome lack of unanimity among Catholic authorities when it comes to brain death. There are physicians and ethicists adamantly opposed to the criteria, and plenty who are just as adamant in affirming them. Yet if there’s such a pronounced lack of unanimity on such a critically important subject, shouldn’t we err on the side of caution? Shouldn’t we err on the side of life when considering a brain death declaration, especially when our senses tell us that life continues? Arguments about integrative function and proportionality aside, it seems more aesthetically fitting, more seemly—more humane, even—to allow a brain-injured person to die utterly and completely (i.e., no heart beat, no mechanical breathing) before proceeding with grieving and whatever else comes next.

So, back to the aesthetics of climate change for a moment. Our senses tell us that global warming is a farce—we feel like it just can’t be true—and we bring that sensory experience to bear when we examine the evidence, pro and con. I imagine even diehard environmentalists can see the humor in talk of global warming when the mercury stubbornly hovers around zero—it’s funny because they’re out in it themselves! But the preponderance of scientific evidence does seem to come down on the side of climate change—at least, that’s what we are told.

That being said, what I do about it—whether I heed the warnings and make adjustments to my driving and other habits to reduce my carbon footprint—is another thing altogether, regardless of what I might conclude regarding the merits of the climate change case. Global warming, as a theory, has significance for researchers, political leaders, and policy makers, but not for average schlubs like me. It’s just fodder for jokes when I’m revving up the snowblower. Even assuming global warming—and our contribution to it as fossil-fuel consuming humans—my actions today won’t have much affect on my world tomorrow. In the aggregate and over time, yes. But as an individual, right now? No. It’s cold and I have to get to work, so I’ll drive, global warming or no global warming—until some bureaucrat decides I can’t any more.

But I’m reluctant to take brain death so lightly. The aesthetics are too disturbing—and the “mistakes” too numerous—for average folks to leave it to the experts and authorities. Let me put it this way: When my teens get their driver’s licenses, there’s always that awkward moment when they’re asked for the first time about organ donation preference. They’re old enough to decide for themselves, but if they ask for my input, I tell them to skip it.

Yes, we should be generous, I tell them; yes, John Paul II instructed us to be unselfish with regards to organ and tissue donation. But most vital organs can only be transplanted from ‘brain dead’ donors who are being kept “alive” on “life support”—qualifications which seem to fly in the face of Pope Benedict’s insistence that “individual vital organs cannot be extracted except ex cadavere.” The Latin for ‘cadaver’ is left untranslated in the original as if to underscore that there should be no question whatsoever that a human body is really dead before its vital organs are removed. And he also spells out the implications for brain death declarations as well:

In an area such as this, in fact, there cannot be the slightest suspicion of arbitration and where certainty has not been attained the principle of precaution must prevail. (Emphasis added.)

With so much up in the air about this stuff—so much confusion regarding how death is defined and how those definitions are applied—I’ll avoid volunteering as a whole organ donor as long as they’ll let me.

In other words, short of a definitive declaration from the Magisterium, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I encourage my children to be vital organ donors. And that’s climate change we’re unlikely to see for a long, long time.

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared January 26, 2014 on the author’s blog “One Thousand Words a Week” and is reprinted with permission.

Richard Becker

By

Richard Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He blogs regularly at God-Haunted Lunatic.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    The Code Napoléon of 1804 famously provided an operative definition in declaring that a person is dead, when a severed blood vessel no longer bleeds. No one, of course, suggested that the converse was true.

  • Objectivetruth

    “The medical community is divided on the issue, as are Catholic bioethicists and moral theologians.”

    Well…..not really. No.

    The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) in Philadelphia should be looked to and it’s Ethics and Religious Directives (ERD) on such subjects and what the Catholic teaching is.

    • Brian

      Let me understand. We use “life”-support on “dead” people.
      No wonder humanity is so confused.

    • kentgeordie

      These answers do not allay my doubts. What if breathing and heartbeat continue after the cessation (ascertained how?) of all neurological activity?
      The tone of these answers reminds me of climate alarmists: the refusal to contemplate an alternative view, while leaving important questions unanswered.

      • Objectivetruth

        Sure, good points. These are guidelines from the NCBC website. But every patient’s situation is different. If you had a friend or loved one that was technically “brain dead” on life support, the bioethicists can help you with guidance and recommendations. Once again, every patient’s situation is different, and the bioethicists at the NCBC (based upon their experience and knowledge) can be very helpful in how does Catholic moral teaching apply.

    • Rick Becker

      Thanks for your comment, OT. You’re certainly correct that the NCBC is an important resource when considering these complicated matters, but they’re not the only one.

      With regards to the ERDs: They’re actually not from the NCBC, but rather from the US bishops, and they address brain death only obliquely. Here’s a portion:

      “63. Catholic health care institutions should encourage and provide the
      means whereby those who wish to do so may arrange for the donation of
      their organs and bodily tissue, for ethically legitimate purposes, so
      that they may be used for donation and research after death.

      “64. Such organs should not be removed until it has been medically determined that the patient has died.”

      Backing up to paragraph 62, we get the ERDs on determining death: “The determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

      Ah, but there’s the rub. There are no commonly accepted scientific criteria for determining death neurologically. There are multiple sets of criteria which are applied in multiple ways. This is unlike the old tried and true cardiopulmonary criteria as I point out in my article, but nobody is arguing about them because they are of little use when we’re talking about vital organ transplantation.

      ERDs link: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/Ethical-Religious-Directives-Catholic-Health-Care-Services-fifth-edition-2009.pdf

      • Objectivetruth

        Rick,

        Explain what you mean by the NCBC not being the only “resource” when considering these complicated matters? Obviously, the NCBC works closely with the hospital, medical staff, and family in actions needed to be taken in the case of a patient with brain death. My point is that For Catholic moral considerations and teachings in event of such a tragedy, the NCBC is an incredible resource.

        • Rick Becker

          Yes, the NCBC is an incredible resource when it comes to these complex and even convoluted questions. No argument there. The bishops themselves rely heavily on the NCBC to help them navigate the often murky bioethical waters, as do many healthcare facilities and even individual families. Through education and consultation, the NCBC’s mission is “to promote human dignity in health care and the life sciences,” and they do so in complete fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church. We should all be grateful for the hard work that they do defending life and upholding the truth.

          However, there are those who also have considerable expertise and experience who do not agree with the NCBC’s position on brain death and vital organ transplantation. Thus, there are doctors and ethicists and clergy, equally faithful to the teachings of the Church, and just as concerned about defending life and truth, who, in good faith, have simply come to a different conclusion (or are withholding judgment) on the matter, and are very actively engaged in deliberating the matter. They, along with the NCBC, with deference to the Magisterium, are, we hope, bringing us ever closer to a definitive and morally coherent understanding of this critically important issue.

  • Objectivetruth
  • NE-Catholic

    Interesting discussion and observation, does anyone else find it disturbing that such an apparently thoughtful individual is so cavalier about letting his life be dictated to by very self-interested bureaucrats? (RE: …..until some bureaucrat decides I can’t any more)

    • Rick Becker

      Thanks for your comment, NE. In response, I have to quote my former boss and pastor from years ago. When prioritizing the crises that he faced every day as pastor of a large parish with a school, Msgr. Madden used to say, “You can’t die in every ditch.”

      Same here. The bureaucrats will do what they will, and most of the time we just have to grin and bear it – stiff upper lip and all that. We can’t ‘die in the ditch’ of every issue that comes our way, and, as a father, there are very few I’m willing to risk incarceration over – even fewer that I’m willing to die for.

      There’s no getting around the fact that bureaucrats dictate much of our lives exteriorly. Interiorly, on the other hand, we are always free.

  • R. K. Ich

    The deeper we go the less we know, not about the mechanics but about the meaning of the mechanics. Much of that which labors under the rubric of “science” *thinks* it can discover or derive moral certitude by dismantling nature. This is why I shudder at the thought of bioethics being inferred by the microscope or beaker or computer models. “Brain death” is not a description only, it is a philosophy about what we think this means. We could just as easily coin a term that leaves the door open for hope of recovery. Why not “undetectable brain function” in its stead?

  • Blah Blaah

    There have been cases of people who were ‘made dead’ for a heart transplant, for example, or other operation. The heart is stopped; brain function flatlines (I think by rapid cooling of the brain – I don’t remember) for a period of time while some operation is performed. And many of these ‘dead’ people have experiences. Wait. How? We don’t know. They are ‘out of body’ EXPERIENCES that cannot be happening in the brain (hallucination, drug-induced) because the doctors are looking at a monitor that shows zero brain activity. And yet when the heart is restarted and the brain warmed up (or whatever has to happen to get brainwaves again), and the person regains consciousness, the person can describe what went on in the operating room from a position of hovering over the people working on his/her body. The person may be aware that ‘that’s me’ on the operating table while at the same time being aware that ‘no, that’s my body; I’m me.’ The person’s identity – the self? the mind? the soul? – has awareness and can do things like see and hear which is impossible for a body that is brain dead with no heartbeat. (Some people in this situation of ‘induced death’ in the operating room also have the long-tunnel-and-light experience or the meeting-with-departed-loved-ones experience that we’ve heard of in ‘near-death’ experiences.)

    When doctors try to explain away these ‘near-death’ or ‘out-of-body’ experiences in a body in which they have induced all the signs of death – flatlined brain, no heart and hence no pulse – they have to stop because according to their science, the body in question can’t be experiencing anything, so how can the person know and remember and describe sights and sounds, conversations and actions that it could not physically observe or sense during the period of induced ‘death’?

    As for me, I too say ‘no’ to organ donation and would definitely counsel against it for younger, more desirable potential donors.

  • Blah Blaah

    I read somewhere a comment that global warming actually CAUSES really cold winters. I didn’t read further. I snorted orange juice out my nose laughing and lost the page while I was cleaning up the keyboard.

    But seriously, we know that centuries ago they grew grapes and made wine in England, where they enjoyed a warm, ‘Mediterranean’ climate until something just changed in the Middle Ages. Of course, we have to take into account the pollutants of the industrial age, and especially the automobile: they can’t be just doing ‘nothing’ in our environment. But climates have just changed in the past… Since we don’t really know that carrying on as usual will result in some kind of climactic armageddon, I am wary of draconian laws to ‘save the climate’ from disasters that can only be speculation, not prediction.

    But perhaps I’m just conditioned by having been told and told and told since childhood (when we were warned of the coming second ice-age, by the way) that the world’s population has to be stopped or the whole planet would be starving and wracked by disease by… about 15 years ago.

  • It’s not unheard of for a patient to awaken after being declared “brain dead” by his doctors. Google finds many examples:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=%22brain+dead%22+(awakens+OR+%22wakes+up%22)

    There’s also considerable evidence that the global warming scare is as overblown as the 1970s global cooling scare:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kGB5MMIAVA

  • Robert

    I am a retired atmospheric scientist (NASA) and have researched “global warming” for the past twenty plus years. First, the climate is always changing. Second, “global warming is a vast hoax fueled by the quest for money and for political power.

    • Adam__Baum

      I sit about 90 miles away from a large field of rocks that geologists tell us is the remnant of a retreating glacier and I sit a few blocks away from a fossilized mastadon.

      I blame global warming for the absence of those magnificent icy rivers and the extinction of those pleistocene pachyderms.

    • Gilbert Jacobi

      Robert,
      I’m arguing with an old friend and staunch global warming believer, just trying to expose him to some scientists who question the theory. Can’t get him to even look at the skeptics. Have you heard of Lord Moncton and Niklas Morner? They call global warming a hoax, but are under attack from all sides. Can’t make heads or tails of it. Would appreciate any source of clarification you can point me to.

  • NickD

    If a patient has a beating heart and functioning lungs, doesn’t that imply that there is still activity in the brainstem, and thus the patient is not “brain “dead””?

    • OLO101

      No. The heart has its own internal pacemaker (SA node). It can beat with absolutely no involvement from the brain. As long as it receives oxygenation, the heart will beat. Independant breathing is not present; this is one of the many indicators of brain stem death. A brain dead person is unable to breathe on their own and must be put on a vent.

      There are very extensive tests used to determine brain death. It is not a prognosis that is made willy nilly.

      In the case of Jahi, she has no blood circulating in her brain. Brain cells die within minutes of oxygen deprivation. She also has no electrical activity to the brain. No brainstem reflexes. When her eye is touched, there is no blink reflex. She has no gag reflex. She failed an apnea test ( they take you off the vent to see if you make any attempt at an independent breath). There is another reflex that is tested by pouring water into the inner ear–she had no response.

      There are movements within the body that do not involve the brain-these are called spinal reflexes. This explains the movement that happens in brain dead paitents

      • NickD

        So, basically, a person who is breathing could not possibly be brain dead, and if he is brain dead, he could not possibly be breathing?

        • OLO101

          A person who is capable of taking/attempting independent breaths has an intact brain stem and does not meet the criteria of brain death. However, the person may still need assistance in order to fully oxygenate the body as their attempts to breath may not be enough on their own.

          A brain dead person cannot breathe on their own. One of the tests for brain death is called the apnea test where they briefly disconnect the vent. There is a lot more to it than simply disconnecting the machine as there are several guidelines (such as the body temperature must be at least 32 degrees C, they must not be on any sedatives or under the influence of illicit drugs, their blood chemistry must be within a certain range…there is a lot to it). If respiratory movements are detected, the test is classified as negative (i.e., not supportive of a brain death diagnosis). It is my understanding that any slight breathing attempt–even if it is not a strong movement– indicates that the brain stem is at least partially intact and the patient will NOT meet the criteria of brain death.

          • NickD

            Thanks for the thorough explanation! That clears that up for me

          • Rick Becker

            Thanks for your thorough replies, OLO. Indeed, the evaluation of independent respiratory efforts by means of the apnea test is part of the constellation of brain death criteria, but that test itself is not without controversy.

            In fact, it’s a bit of a Catch 22. As Dr. Paul Byrne says, the “ventilator can be effective only in someone living,” and to perform the apnea test to diagnose brain death can be it’s own self-fulfilling prophecy.

            Byrne: http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/organ-donation-warnings-guidance-and-preservation-of-life-forms-in-new-pamp

            • OLO101

              Exactly. The Intracerebral Perfusion (test used to see if there is blood flow in the brain) scans are what I find to be the most conclusive test in determining brain death.

              • Rick Becker

                Maybe intracerebral perfusion scans are more conclusive in determining detectable brain function, but they’re hardly conclusive in determining whether someone is alive or not.

                To begin with, perfusion scans are not foolproof, and, even if they were, they’re only as reliable as the humans who run them and interpret them. Case in point: Zach Dunlap who was declared brain dead after a perfusion scan, and then woke up before they could yank out his organs. He’s doing fine now: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/oklahoma-man-declared-dead-feels-pretty-good-article-1.286113

                The real problem with the brain death definition(s) is the presumption that lack of detectable brain function equals death. Who says? Harvard? Who put them in charge?

                Instead, consider this from Dr. Gomez-Lobo who formerly served on President Bush’s bioethics council: “During the early embryonic stages of an organism, there is certainly integrated functioning of subsystems, and this happens before the brain is formed.” And if it happens in the embryo, why not in adulthood, especially after a traumatic brain injury?

                In other words, maybe God’s design for the human body–including its integrative function–is so intricate, so delicately woven together, so subtle, that even brilliant neuroscientists (and transplant surgeons) have more to discover about it. In the meantime, we should show a bit more respect for all human life, even when it is ebbing, even when it is just hanging on. No, let me re-phrase that: We should show a great deal more respect.

                More reading: http://catholicmoraltheology.com/is-there-an-offical-roman-catholic-teaching-on-brain-death-a-response-to-yesterdays-claim-from-the-national-catholic-bioethics-center/

  • Paul

    Excellent article and very succinctly put !!!

  • ron

    Good Article!

  • musicacre

    There are so many unexplained cases that it seems imprudent to play with the notion of “brain death”. I’m sure there was an article not long ago on Crisis where the writer actually named the doctor who, while at a California medical conference in the 60’s coined the term “brain death” as a solution for future organ collection.

    Having said that, one case that impacted our family about 8 years ago was a close friend of my sister-in- law. He was in his early 40’s and suddenly passed out while at a lumber yard buying building supplies, and rushed to the hospital. He didn’t come to and the cat scans revealed massive hemorrhage from aneurysm. We were at a family event at the time and called by distraught sister in law, so we rushed over to the hospital, and phoned a priest ahead of time to meet us there. The doctor had said he wouldn’t make it to morning so call whatever pastor now. When we saw the priest we said we didn’t know if he was Catholic, (the patient) so the priest just gave him a general blessing and sprinkled holy water on the unconscious man and left. My husband lingered in the room just feeling bad and looking at the unconscious man when he noticed his neck throbbing suddenly. My husband called the doctor to come to the room and by the time the doc got there this guy was sitting up (disoriented, but awake). They rushed him into the scan place again and found NO sign of bleeding but 4 aneurysms ready to blow. They commenced surgery and finished about 5 in the morning. The neurologist was ecstatic because he knew something weird had happened…something he could not explain. The surgery was successful and the man survived. He had short-term memory loss at first and had therapy at a rehab hospital for a few months. To this day he is still alive and drives and gets around, etc. He says he know he owes God, but hasn’t converted as yet…..

  • Vinnie

    “…declaring death neurologically is downright tricky. It relies on human judgment to make a decision regarding an ailing individual’s brain function”… There’s also ethos – if the “state” regards you as not “useful” or a “burden” then you are.

  • ack8910

    “Even if it is determined to be all gone (the essence of brain death criteria), the person’s heart will keep beating on its own, as long as the lungs are mechanically assisted to breathe.”–That last clause is the kicker. If one stops mechanical ventilation, the heart stops. The reason such a patient would be required to be mechanically ventilated, in the context of absent brain activity (i.e. no waveforms on EEG), would be because the person is otherwise unequivocally dead. The only way for the heart to work is if the lungs work, and the only way that the lungs work is if there is respiratory drive coming from the brainstem. Therefore, the individual is dead and may be removed from life support without moral ramifications.
    Additionally, one can perform an arteriogram to see that, in the case of ‘brain death’ (which I’ll define here as the permanent absence of neurological activity), perfusion to the brain ceases. This can potentially be a criterion for death.

    • kentgeordie

      So we know the patient is brain dead when their heart and lungs cease to function. We have read a lot of obfuscation in this discussion, but no contributor has shown why we should accept as dead any patient whose heart and lungs are functioning unaided.
      I think we are back to square one.

    • Rick Becker

      True enough, especially your use of the modifier, “otherwise.” The brain injured person is being mechanically ventilated, which allows the heart to do its thing unaided. Like everybody else in a similar situation in the ICU, that person is alive…until the heart and lungs cease functioning, and regardless of the extent of brain injury.

      The big concern here is vital organ transplantation, especially unpaired organs like the heart. It can only be done, generally, while the donor’s heart is still beating, and the implications of that are obvious.

      • Gilbert Jacobi

        Thank you for this article. I once had occasion to deliver a heart to a hospital, presumably for use in a transplant. I never knew that the heart can’t be used for transplant purposes unless removed from its original owner while still beating. If I understand you correctly, this sets up multiple conflicts of interest, within the doctors themselves, between them and cost conscious hospital administrators, and between the party or parties who want that heart for transplanting and those, such as the family of the injured person, who might prefer to leave it inside their loved one? With one side typically more willing to accept the neurological definition of death than those who might be emotionally invested in giving the injured one more time?

        Also, can you clear up what appears to be a disagreement between you and OLO101, who seems to be saying it was not worth taking Jahi home – that, in other words, she’s dead anyway?

  • CatholicInMD

    “The Undead,” by Dick Teresi, is an interesting book that provides information about brain death and organ donation.

  • Joseph

    Thank you for this article. I also reject “brain death”, I’m not an organ donor, and will not accept organs from “brain dead” patients.

    Regarding Jahi, I wonder what would happen if medicine reached a point where she could be injected intracranially with adult stem cells obtained from her own body, and if we succeeded in at least partially repairing her brain. Would the “brain death” proponents claim that she has been resurrected from the dead?

    Similar things have been done with the heart – intracardiac injection of adult stem cells after cardiac infarction, and these adult stem cells have been able to partially repair the heart, after part of the heart tissue died in the heart attack.

    Before anyone objects, saying that Jahi’s brain is totally, 100% destroyed, let me ask the objectors: PROVE IT. How do you know that 100% of her brain cells are dead? Oh and by the way, have you measured her serum levels of anterior pituitary hormones?

    In a German study involving 32 patients diagnosed as “brain dead”, all 32 had their serum levels of anterior pituitary hormones in the normal range. In another Japanese study, not only hypothalamic and pituitary hormone secretion could be detected from “brain dead” patients, but the brains were examined post mortem and histologically normal brain tissue was found in the hypothalamus and pituitary. In other words, “brain death” usually doesn’t mean that every single brain cell is dead.

    Also, let’s not forget the anencephalic infants. They have a brain stem, but lack the upper part of the brain. Saying that an anencephalic infant is alive (both medicine and the Church regards them as alive), but a “brain dead” person with a destroyed brain stem is dead, will lead to the rather funny conclusion that the brain stem is some sort of “magical organ” that is the seat of human life, the single organ necessary for the human soul to be attached to the body, the single “magical organ” that makes the difference between life and death.

    Because, let’s recapitulate, “anencephalic” means: no cerebrum, no cerebellum, yes brain stem. While “brain dead” means: cerebrum mostly destroyed, cerebellum mostly destroyed, brain stem mostly destroyed. Really, it boils down to a difference in the brain stem.

    Why should we regard the brain stem as the “magic organ”, seat of life, seat of the human soul? Why not the spinal cord, instead? Why not our pinky fingers, instead of the brain stem? Why is the brain stem more special than our spinal cord, or why is it more special than our pinky fingers, for that matter? (and here I would put a big grin, if I could post emoticons on this website)

    Also, how about the human zygote after conception, how about the human embryo during the first 6 weeks after conception? How about Holy Mary visiting St. Elizabeth “in a haste”, probably within a few days after she conceived Jesus Christ? Our Lord was in an early embryonic stage, HE HAD NO BRAIN AT ALL. Why did St. John the Baptist leap of joy in St. Elizabeth’s womb, why was St. Elizabeth so elated with joy? Because Our Lord was alive in their presence, even if he was just an embryo, with no cerebrum, no cerebellum, no brain stem – no brain tissue. He was alive – you don’t necessarily need a brain to be alive.

    Our Lord Jesus Christ was entitled to be worshiped even though he didn’t have a brain in his early embryonic stage, and patients with brain injuries and pathologies (Jahi McMath, anencephalic infants, people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease) are entitled to our love and respect.

    • kentgeordie

      Excellent comment.

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