Saturday, February 23, 2008

Before their time

Organs harvested before their time

Brain death is defined as "irreversible coma with absent brainstem reflexes (such as reactions of the pupils to light and other 'automatic' reflexes)."

Yet, "irreversible" implies that doctors can predict the future of a patient in coma; but medical science hasn't reached this degree of perfection. In newspapers as well as in medical books and journals, I've read about many patients who seemed to be in a permanent coma but who then woke up days, months, or even years after doctors incorrectly make the diagnosis of irreversible coma.

Likewise, "absent brainstem reflexes" simply means that the brainstem isn't working properly and generating electrical impulses. But this can be due to what I would call "sleeping" brain cells. Damage to the cells (for example, from lack of oxygen or nutrients) can make them temporarily too weak to generate nerve impulses or EEG signals. With reversal of the damaging condition, the brain cells often heal and resume normal function.


Other diagnostic factors such as "low body temperature (hypothermia), sedative or paralytic medicines, or the presence of severe metabolic disorders . . . might confuse the diagnosis of brain death." according to Doctors Steven Laureys and Joseph J. Fins....


In an internet report ... neurologist Lawrence Huntoon, M.D., Ph.D., editor-in-chief of the "Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons" writes, "In plain, straight talk, the survey indicates a high likelihood that some patients are being 'harvested' in some hospitals before they are dead! In hospitals with aggressive transplant programs (hospitals make a huge amount of money on transplant cases), making sure a patient is dead before going to the 'harvesting suite' may be viewed as a minor technicality" ( "Top hospitals typically disregard brain-death guidelines").


It's a very good idea to designate an agent for healthcare, to make decisions on your behalf when you're unconscious or aren't able to do so yourself. The International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (ITF) has very lucid Advanced Health Care Directive language adapted the meet the requirements of different states.

No law or person should demand the life of an innocent person, under any pretext. Whether a person is unborn, disabled or extremely ill, I believe life is sacred and is our most fundamental right.

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