There is work to do. Improved journalistic consistency and responsibility in reporting about brain death is needed. With this post I hope to start a GrassRoots movement to encourage greater attention to detail from journalists. Without their help, broader community acceptance of the concept of Brain Death as death of the human being may not reach the rates we need to facilitate organ donation. Let me explain.
The state of Brain Death is strictly defined and is a legal definition of death of the human being because the brain itself has died. This is not reversible. However, many cells elsewhere in the body are often alive and kept functional by the oxygen that is circulated to them by the patient’s beating heart and artificial respiration, (also called artificial support or ventilatory support). It is these cells residing within organs that, when treated appropriately, may support lives once transplanted into other persons. Without artificial support the rest of these cells would also die fairly rapidly too. For this reason, brain death is really a man made state. Without machinery, the person would still be dead (because the brain is dead) and the rest of the organs would rapidly stop functioning too.
So, what needs to be changed?
- If brain death has been declared, death does not subsequently occur. It occurred at the time of declaration of brain death. Typically, the certificate of death is completed with that time of death.
- If brain death has been declared, the person cannot be kept “alive” on “life support”.
- If brain death has been declared, the person does not die after removal of artificial support. If that was the case, removal of such support would be a criminal act.
On February 26, 2013, Joe Nocera blogged in the NY Times that a 16-yr-old girl was both brain-dead and “being kept on life support so that her organs may be donated”, http://nocera.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/the-gun-report-february-26-2013/. The original source was ABC-7 News in Fort Myers, FL, http://www.abc-7.com/story/21318272/woman-injured-in-ale-house-shooting. In that story the third problem was illustrated, “She was later taken off life support and died”.
With this post, a call to draw attention through this blog to all similar errors of accuracy that are found in print or other media. I will start tabulating the errors by sources. The intent is not to embarrass, but to encourage change. Please share this blog post with your friends and family. Your participation will make the difference!