Sunday, 25 November 2012

How Dead Do You Have to Be?

My sister-in -law, Sylvia died of a massive heart attack last month, and some of her organs are now bringing new life to others, and I am glad.

Sylvia's doctors acted with compassion, and with the utmost correctness, I am sure of it, but when I sat with her, holding her hand, I didn't know whether she was alive or dead. That's OK, but I  am beginning to wonder if anyone did.

It's raining heavily today and I am catching up with my reading. The most fascinating piece of which, from the top of the pile, is New Scientist (20 Oct 2012) , which is a Death special. The problem I'm tussling with lies  with the brain. When does it die?

I discovered that current medical practice allows for a body to be capable of movement, and even to have discernible brain waves, and still be declared, 'brain dead'. EEG's are not routinely given to dertmine brain death, and family members are discouraged from staying with donee bodies because these, what we regard as, ' life signs'  may still be evident.

Showing life signs, does not preclude the possibility of imminent death, of course, and harvested organs have to be fresh to be useable - but, but, but, don't we have the right to know everything about the condition of our dying friends and loved ones? Don't you want to be convinced that 'dead' means 'and gone' ?

Forty people over the last few years have had life support systems removed because they are enduring 'locked-in syndrome'. Forty. Yet,  very recently, it has been discovered that it is possible to communicate with these sufferers using brain scanning techniques. No blame. Doctors can only act on the science at hand... But, but, but, shouldn't we now question how those of us living in the shadowland between life and death are treated, for when our number's up?

Am I still a potential organ doner? Yes, but I shall be leaving a requirement in my will that death before donation be confirmed by brain scan. Probably.

Check it out:

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