Re: Dr. Dobson

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Aug 10 2005 - 05:34:44 EDT

I'm afraid you are not paying attention to what I wrote - in particular, "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." I.e.,, there is an important distinction between defining (not
operationally!) a condition & testing to see whether or not that condition
exists. It's the latter that you're focusing on & I'm not disagreeing with
you there.

----- Original Message -----
From: "jack syme" <>
To: "George Murphy" <>; <>; "Carol or John
Burgeson" <>
Sent: Tuesday, August 09, 2005 10:14 PM
Subject: Re: Dr. Dobson

> It is not possible to check to see "if there is no brain function at all".
> Is someone dead if 10% of their neurons work, or 5% or 25 %? The only
> tests involved are very gross tests and in no way could they actually test
> whole brain function.
> This has nothing to do with whether or not the relevant medical personnel
> know the criteria accurately. It is a limitation of the definition.
> Why is it that the majority of patients that fit the criteria for brain
> death, do not develop neurogenic diabetes insipidus, for example? (DI is
> not part of the standard definition of brain death.) I guess you could
> claim that the pituitary gland is not a part of the brain, even though it
> is inside the brain. But again, there is no way to test if the WHOLE
> brain is not functioning. And in fact there are patients that can be kept
> alive indefinitely, (at least their bodies anyway), even after being
> declared dead. There was a case in northern Virginia that just ended
> earlier this month, about a woman with malignant melanoma, who had a
> severe recurrence and ended up being declared brain dead, but, was
> pregnant at the time, and her husband decided to keep her on life support
> for three months until the baby was delivered. So even arguments that
> the brain integrates the function of the body, are not supported by the
> facts.
> (Please note the ironic language, "A brain-dead woman who was kept
> alive for three months so she could deliver the child she was carrying was
> removed from life support Wednesday and died, a day after giving birth."
> If she was already dead, how could she die?)
> But my major point is that I think that our current definition of brain
> death, is not based at all on what it means to be alive or not alive, (but
> is based only whether or not the patient can recover,) is no help at all
> in determining when an embryo becomes alive; when it becomes a person.
> Instead of whole brain death, I think what you are trying to say is more
> akin to definitions of death based on neocortical death. In these cases
> people in PVS would be considered dead because they have lost their
> identity, their personhood.
> One problem with using higher cortical function definitions of death, is
> that some patients in these conditions improve, and it is not possible,
> early on anyway, to declare that patients that have lost higher cortical
> function, have lost those functions permanently.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "George Murphy" <>
> To: <>; <>; "Carol or John Burgeson"
> <>
> Sent: Tuesday, August 09, 2005 9:21 PM
> Subject: Re: Dr. Dobson
>> ----- 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 Alzheimer's?"
>> Shalom,
>> George
Received on Wed Aug 10 05:38:01 2005

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