Sunday, January 5, 2014

What is Death?

Jahi McMath

A 13 year old girl in Oakland California is declared brain dead after a cardiac arrest during a tonsillectomy. Her mother is fighting efforts to remove her from life support and is trying to find a place that will keep her.

Marlise Munoz

In Texas a woman is declared brain dead and the husband is fighting efforts to keep her on life support... Marlise Munoz is 19 weeks pregnant. 

What is Death?

I went into this story with the belief that Jahi McMath was dead, end of story. Now after doing a bit of research I am not so sure.  There is a lot out there, from the story that "No one recovers from being brain dead" to the story of someone who recovered from being brain dead.

In 2002 it was discovered that about 1 in 15 people who had been in a "minimally conscious state" for years could be "awakened" with nothing more than a simple dose of Ambien.

Dead or Alive?

In my opinion, for all practical intents and purposes Jahi McMath is dead, but then again so were many people in the 1800's who died of cardiac arrests that are currently reversible.  Those who recover from the diagnosis of "brain death" are the statistical outliers, much as many people in the 1800's whose hearts stopped, lacked a pulse, but whose hearts seemingly restarted spontaneously.

It just goes to illustrate how little we understand of the brain, life, death, and consciousness.  Perhaps in 10, 50, or 100 years jump starting the brain will be no different than jump starting the heart today. The question then becomes is it worth the $2,000 - $4,000 dollars a day necessary for intensive life support to keep the girl alive in the eventuality we figure out how to restart her brain.  An interesting question in the days of ObamaCare.

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