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Frankly speaking, I was taken aback by Elizabeth Rosenthal’s essay “Dead Complicated”, because it reflects the attempt to delineate the exact limits of life. The essay itself is based on a few concepts of death which have already engendered a great controversy between doctors, lawyers, and ethicists. In the beginning, the notion of heart-lung death is presented and perceived as increasingly inadequate by modern medicine. The reason for it is the use of diverse life-support systems. There is an example of a noticeable case in Florida, where a couple wanted to have their daughter Theresa declared dead because of the anencephalic disorder she possessed. The request was rejected, and when the infant died, there was no possibility of donating her organs. Unfortunately, it happened due to the abstract concept of brain death, which is now popular within medics and lawyers. Honestly, I am inclined to agree with the author’s point of view considering subconscious resistance to brain death, but the truth is that it can be traced from two completely different standpoints: emotional and scientific.

Despite its worldwide approbation, the concept of brain death practically remains muddled and incoherent. Apparently, it obscures our clarity in understanding of death, and makes us feel rather ambiguous about the cessation. According to Elizabeth Rosenthal, most states in America use a whole brain concept of death, which means that every cell in your brain should cease to function, and only then you are permitted to declare your patient dead. Though, the forthcoming question is the following: can we affirm that the patient is still alive if he is in a persistent vegetative state, has only a brain stem, and will never feel, touch, hear, and see, despite his heart permanently beating,? A confusing dilemma is to be found somewhere near this question. Approximately thirty-five years ago, there was no such dilemma, as the patient, whose heart and lungs stopped functioning, was immediately declared dead. As for the heart-lung concept of death, it is often used by religious people, as they believe that “[…] a beating heart is the benchmark of life.”

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Admittedly, another problem I am actually bewildered with, is that the whole-brain death is hard to ascertain. Often, a specialist needs to distinguish the line between life and death, if two people are in irreversible comas, but one of them is still alive, because his brain stem is functioning. Usually, neurologists are trying to cause some primitive reflexes, testing eye movements, or breathing skills. Unfortunately, the breathing is often not sufficient to sustain vital organs.

Nowadays, scholars believe that the whole-brain concept should be replaced with another definition considering death. It is called “irreversible loss of consciousness and cognition.” The main criteria of this concept should embrace the rejection of any traditional idea that a mindless organism is alive.

Elizabeth Rosenthal makes this issue available for debate, as the emotional standpoint to the matter is ambiguous. She describes different points of view which make a difference. The doctors, who are not intended to interrupt somebody’s life when some cells in the brain are still functioning, understand that it leads to a big problem concerning the supply of donor organs. Searching for the answer to the central question, “[…] If a beating heart does not suffice for us to be human beings, what is left but consciousness to link us all together?”, the author examines ethicists’ experience, who consider the notion of the whole-brain death to be a weighty dilemma. E. Rosenthal remarks:

So, were I to lapse into a persistent vegetative state or have a child born without a higher brain, I would desperately want the organs taken for donation in the hope that they might help others live. But, having said that, would I want society to allow me, as a practicing physician, to act on these instincts by declaring all patients with these conditions dead? Now I balk.

Obviously, her point of view is clear, and I fully agree with it, as one cannot declare every patient dead due to science or logic no matter how hopelessly comatose they may be. In our society, being buried alive is the ultimate fear, she admits.

Eventually, it is extremely important to organize yourself and make the right decision, as in the case with Theresa. To tell the truth, the loss of her organs is truly unacceptable to me. At any rate, the subconscious resistance to brain death is purely transparent and comprehensible, but concerning religious beliefs it goes against the grain. It is essential to feel the matter in the doctor’s place in order not to be mistaken by any of the concepts. If it is possible to save a life, one should do it without paying attention to religion, law, and ethics.

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