Monday, April 23, 2012

Is There Life After Brain Death?

A shocking article (click here) in today's Chicago Tribune described a mother whose newborn baby was found alive in an Argentine morgue 12 hours after being declared dead. According to the report:

. . . Doctors told Analia Bouter that her baby was stillborn when she gave birth in Argentina's northern Chaco province on April 3. But when she and her husband pried open the coffin inside the refrigerated morgue, they found the baby breathing.

The story left me overjoyed, but nonetheless shivering with an almost existential chill.
The reason may be because I had just finished reading The Undead by medical journalist, Dick Teresi. The author suggests that the transplant community does such a hasty job of determining when someone is dead in order to harvest their organs, that mistakes are sometimes made. Teresi describes young mothers declared dead, who deliver healthy babies several months later, only to be wheeled into the operating room to have their organs harvested mere moments after the child's birth. One recent example was a brain-dead Michigan woman, Christine Bolden, who gave birth to twins on April 23, 2012.  Her organs were removed immediately for purposes of transplantation.  In other examples, ". . . [beating heart cadavers] --who don't receive anesthetics during an organ harvest operation --react to the scalpel like inadequately anesthetized live patients, exhibiting high blood pressure and sometimes soaring heart rates."



The organ transplant community insists that any physical movements of patients declared "brain dead" are simple reflexes. In fact a scathing letter to the editor appeared after publication in the Wall Street Journal of an op-ed column by Teresi entitled: "What You Lose When You Sign that Donor Card."

Understandably, medical practitioners and others involved with organ transplants are up in arms, fearing that fewer people will sign organ donor cards after reading Teresi's book. However, I credit him with doing a courageous job of bringing to light an issue that clearly demands more public discussion and medical scrutiny by disinterested parties.