by Chris Carroll, MD, MS.
The death of any person can be tragic, even more so when that person is a child. Recently, there has been significant media coverage of the case of Jahi McMath, a 13-year old girl who according to news reports, underwent medical procedures to try to improve her obstructive sleep apnea and arrested following surgery. She was resuscitated and placed on a ventilator, but was pronounced brain dead on December 12th. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family during this difficult time and to the medical staff caring for Jahi and her family through this challenging and emotional situation.
Although this case presents an opportunity to provide education about the determination of death, there has been little reasoned discussion. Emotional discussions are understandable in situations like this one. But for situations with as serious consequences as this, thoughtful discussions need to occur as well.
The facts of this case are clear. Although I am not involved in the care of this patient, from reading the outside neurologist’s report, her condition is not in doubt. Legally and medically, she is dead.
Brain death has been formally defined in the US since the 1980’s. In a Presidential Commission that consisted of doctors, lawyers and bioethicists, brain death was defined as “the irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem” and established detailed clinical steps needed to make that determination.
So why do we have so much trouble with brain death? Continue reading “Controversies Surrounding Brain Death”