Is Brain Dead Really Dead?

By Amber Green

Amber Green is currently a senior in the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, double majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Philosophy. Her majors led her to an interest in neurophilosophy and neuroethics. She hopes to pursue a MA in Bioethics and/or Neurophilosophy and go into a career as a clinical neuroethicist after graduating in May.

Having a family member pronounced dead is a very heartbreaking moment. Be it your pet, your sister, your mother, or your child, the pain you feel when the doctor reports that your loved one has passed away is overwhelming. Doctors know that there are no take-backs once they inform the family of the patient’s death, which is why there are strict procedures for a doctor to follow when declaring someone dead. However, when it comes to “brain death” and the advances of life support technology, these procedures become harder to follow and leads one to ask the question: “More importantly, if the brain is dead, are we dead?”

In Oakland, California, this past year, a 13-year old girl named Jahi McMath had been maintained on a ventilator since an elective procedure to treat her sleep apnea went horribly wrong. Jahi McMath had been pronounced brain dead, yet she had not been taken off of life support. In fact, her parents persuaded a judge to have her life support extended for at least a week past the doctor’s declaration of brain death. Her parents insisted that she is still alive and that taking their daughter off life support is equivalent to killing her.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.