Bioethics Blogs

“And Death Shall Be No More”

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Two years after John Donne’s death, the Holy Sonnets were published. In Sonnet 10, Donne speaks about the end of death: “Death, thou shalt die.” Although a metaphorical conceit referring to eternal life in heaven, the poem takes on new meaning in the age of regenerative medicine.

Since the 1968 ad hoc Harvard committee on defining death, brain death has been defined as the “irreversible loss of all functions of the brain, including the brainstem.” If a new project is successful that definition may have to be revised or deleted.

Bioquark (US) and Revita Life Sciences (India) have received human subjects approval from the NIH to reverse brain death and regenerate the brains of 20 patients. As the Revita website says, “Dead Man Walking. US-INDIA Project could revive brain dead patients. A team of doctors from India and the US are working on an ambitious project to infuse life into those deemed brain dead. The Multi-Modality Approach to reverse braindeath [sic] could be the path to a medical break through.” The public misunderstanding about brain death (that it is indeed death) has entered a new realm where the smell of potential profit is using science to prove misconceptions or that the companies are taking advantage of unfounded hope that life does not have to end (millions of years of experience and evidence shows that it does indeed end).

The researchers plan to use lasers, nerve stimulation, and injections of peptides and stem cells. The companies hypothesize that these procedures will restart the brain.

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.