by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
A judge in Reno, Nevada this week denied a request by St. Mary’s Regional Hospital to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine that a patient is dead. Aden Hailu was a 20-year-old student at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) when she was hospitalized April 1 with abdominal pain. During exploratory surgery, she had a heart attack that led to low blood pressure and lack of oxygen to the brain. Hailu never awoke. A ventilator is now maintaining her body, an IV introduces fluids and nutrients, and medications are maintaining blood pressure.
In mid-April, doctors declared her dead by neurologic criteria (brain dead). Brain death means that the patient has failed such medical tests as apnea (can the patient breathe on her own without mechanical assistance) and response to painful stimuli. When a person is dead, normal practice is to remove the body from sustaining measures and/or to donate organs to other patients. And that was the hospital’s plan on July 2 until the family went to court and stayed that action.
Hailu’s family claims that she is not dead and that the hospital wants to get rid of her because of money. As evidence they support EEGs of the brain taken before the declaration of death. The family has a GoFundMe campaign that has raised nearly $37,000.
In July, a county court ruled that the hospital could remove the ventilator and an IV tube but on appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned that ruling (November 16). The higher Court ordered the lower court to determine whether the standard of medical practice and American Association of Neurology guidelines in determining death conform with Nevada law.
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.