Bioethics in Brief is a newsletter of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, committed to promoting clinical health care and health policy which is patient-centered, compassionate, and just. Opinions expressed in the newsletter are those of the authors and do not represent the position of the Center.
Disbelief in Brain Death
Mr. Jones, age 52, was admitted with a large bleed into his brain. He was put on ventilator support before surgery, which involved removing blood to release pressure in the brain and repairing the vessel that had bled. After surgery, Mr. Jones remained comatose and dependent on the ventilator for breathing. In addition, he had a rapid heart rate, which concerned his wife. Dr. Wilson, the neurosurgeon, explained that the rapid heart rate was related to further build-up of pressure in Mr. Jones’ brain.
On reexamination, Dr. Wilson noted the absence of brain stem reflexes and suspected brain death. He proceeded with clinical tests to determine death and confirmed that Mr. Jones was brain dead. Mrs. Jones refused to discuss withdrawing the ventilator and insisted that Mr. Jones receive brain surgery to relieve the built-up pressure. “I don’t believe in brain death,” she stated. “Our religion says he’s alive if his heart is beating and he’s breathing. Until it stops, the spirit’s there; it hasn’t left the body.” There was no health care proxy and no do not resuscitate (DNR) order. Dr. Wilson requested an ethics consultation...
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