What defines life? More importantly, what determines the state of being alive? Is it the blood flowing through your veins? Or the ongoing processes that carry out in your body? Is it the humanity’s condition of having feelings? Or perhaps it is the state of consciousness?
It is a long-debated topic whether a “brain-dead” person is still alive. By definition, brain death is the irreversible end of brain activity. There is no potential for consciousness, independent respiration ceases. Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
In the past, a confirmation of death was straightforward – when the heart stops beating and breathing no longer occurs, a person is dead. The lack of oxygen due to a cease in blood flow quickly resulted in permanent damage to the brain. Nowadays, however, confirmation of death seems to be a much more complicated endeavor as it is possible to keep the heart beating long after brain function has come to a halt.
Many families consider keeping their loved ones alive as long as they can, spending thousands of dollars on life support for them. What many fail to understand is, there is a point of no return.
Legally, a person is declared dead when all brain activity come to a halt. This is usually determined by a series of tests, one of which is if a patient can still initiate a breath. Since it’s one of the most simple and primitive reflexes being carried out by the brain, signs of an individual initiating breath can prove that there is still hope. If not, however, the answer is evident. Even with ventilators to keep the heart pumping, – which it will, for a while – many biological functions can only continue for about a week.
One of the critical functions of the brain is to cause the body to secrete the many vital hormones needed for the upkeep of biological processes – immune, gastric, and kidney functions, to name a few. Blood pressure and body temperature cannot also be maintained in many cases in a brain-dead person.
This can all be remedied, however, with the latest advancements in medical science. But despite all this, with all the critical bodily processes functioning at 100%, is the person still alive? And moreover, is a family’s decision to keep them on life support a smart one? Knowing all the facts, maybe it isn’t – maybe.