Re: Dr. Dobson

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Aug 09 2005 - 21:21:14 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: "George Murphy" <>; <>; "Carol or John
Burgeson" <>
Sent: Tuesday, August 09, 2005 4:30 PM
Subject: Re: Dr. Dobson

> Whole brain death is a concept with very little meaning behind it. It is
> accepted as a legal definition of death this is true, but outside of organ
> transplantation, it isnt used in a legalistic way such as this.
> If you look at hospital records the time of death is often not given as
> the moment the brain death declaration was made, it is given as the time
> the ventilator is removed and the patient no longer has a pulse.
> It is not a very useful concept as a means of making health care
> decisions, because the concept has no meaning beyond "this person has such
> severe and irreversible brain damage that there is no hope for recovery",
> but we can make determinations like that without having to make the claim
> that the person is dead.

I think that the concept of whole brain death is meaningful enough: There
is no brain function at all. Problems arise with (a) how one tests for that
& (b) whether or not relevant medical personnel know the criteria
accurately. (The article I'm going to mention cites a study indicating that
35% of personnel dealing with transplant matters didn't.) I found Robert D.
Truog's "Is It Time to Abandon Brain Death?", Hastings Center Report 27.1,
1997, p.29, helpful. As the title suggests, the article is rather critical
of the concept & its use.

I don't think though that the problems with the concept destroy whatever
usefulness it may have for reflections at the beginning of life. If total
lack of brain function means that a person is no longer alive (& please note
that I say "if") then there is some logic to the argument that a total lack
of a brain in an embryo means that a person has not yet come into being.

In this thread I have not been arguing for any of these views but have
simply been trying to lay out some of the options. In a couple of days I'll
be on a panel as a representative of the clergy to talk about embryonic stem
cell research & will probably take a pretty conservative position because I
suspect that the others on the panel will take a "Let's get on with it view"
& the discussion needs some ethical balance. But in general I think it's
unfortunate that many Christians simply assume that personhood (or
ensoulment) begins at "the moment of conception" & then because of that
assumption think that they're obligated to try to shoot down any & all
arguments that disagree with it. On the other side, of course, there are
those whose arguments amount to a kind of ethical blackmail: "Are you in
favor of embryonic stem cell research or do you want people to suffer from

Received on Tue Aug 9 21:22:58 2005

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