Voice from the Rooftop

Blog of Vincent Augustine D'Souza

Brain death is not death

Doctors treat brain dead persons as dead even though other organs are functioning. The organs are removed and given to other persons. There are cases where heart transplantation had taken place and receivers had undergone change in behaviour and had memories of dead persons whose hearts they had received.

A news report by dt. 27/3/2008 by Catholic News Agency mentions the case of Zack Dunlap, A young man who was injured in an woke from his coma and showed signs of life just minutes before he was to be disconnected from life support. Doctors had determined he met the legal and medical requirements for declaring someone brain-dead and a medical team prepared to harvest Dunlap’s organs for donation.

A nurse, Dan Coffin, thought the monitor recording Dunlap’s vital signs showed signs of improvement. On a hunch he pulled out his pocketknife and scraped Dunlap’s foot from his heel to his toes.

Dunlap jerked his foot, but the attending hospital nurse believed it was only a reflex. Dan Coffin then stuck his fingernail beneath Dunlap’s fingernail, which provoked a purposeful movement, a sign of brain activity.

Doctors immediately resumed medical treatment. Dunlap opened his eyes after five days, and was taken off a ventilator two days later.

Forty-eight days after being declared dead, Dunlap returned home, where Dan Coffin presented him with the pocketknife that proved he was still alive.

Dunlap said he did not remember the accident, but he does remember the doctor declaring him dead. “I heard it and it just made me mad inside,” he said.

The theory that brain is the seat of the person and a brain dead person is dead even though he breathes needs to be discarded. We do not know how many lives have been lost due to this theory. Any persons who breathes, whose heart beats, whose pulse beats, shall not be declared dead. However extraordinary measures to prolong life need not be taken.

Doctors may be experts but experts can go wrong. I remember a joke. Once people were getting ready to bury a person. They were about to place the lid on his coffin. He opened his eyes and said, “I am not dead. Don’t bury me.” The people were stunned. Then they said, “The priest and the doctor have declared you dead. They are experts. Experts cannot be wrong.” They placed the lid on his coffin and lowered it in the grave.

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