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September 23, 2013

In This Article

A Brain-Dead Body Can Still Function

Many doctors consider this an appropriate definition and say that misdiagnoses are rare. Others have a problem with the very concept and say that brain death is not enough. They point to the fact that a brain-dead pregnant mother can continue to gestate and give birth, and the body can eliminate cell waste, heal wounds, and fight infections.[8]

Does the fact that a brain-dead body can do all this mean that brain death is a bogus reason for declaring a patient dead? Or is it merely an observation that doesn't change the fact that this person will still never have awareness or function again?

Proponents of the UDDA definition say that this allows for organ donation to save a life of someone else. Some ask, would anyone even want to spend a life completely unresponsive and unaware? If my mind is completely gone, do I care if my heart is working or not?

6. Brain dead, but not entirely. There are debates about whole-brain death vs brainstem death. Some say, for example, that there may well be cortex activity even if there is no brainstem activity.

On occasion, even among supposedly nonresponsive people, doctors have found some brainstem activity. There are rare anecdotal reports that supposedly brain-dead patients have increased blood pressure and heart rate when the surgeon inserts the scalpel to harvest their organs. Or does this brain activity just reflect randomly discharging neurons? That wouldn't indicate that the patient is really alive.

7. Spiritual and religious definitions of death. Many religious people would argue that no matter what the patient's state of nonresponsiveness, the person is alive until God calls him. It is commonly believed that death signifies the separation of the spirit and the body. "Life is a gift from God, and it is to be revered until it ends by itself."

Pope John Paul II, addressing the 18th International Congress of the Transplantation Society in 2000, said, "Vital organs which occur singly in the body can be removed only after death -- that is, from the body of someone who is certainly dead." He added, "This requirement is self-evident, since to act otherwise would mean intentionally to cause the death of the donor in disposing of his organs."[9]

One's own definition may depend on one's motivation, religious background, medical experiences, and adherence to clinical evidence. The debate continues.

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