Friday, June 25, 2010

Our Brain Death Standard

What's nice about our brain death standard is that it was created to save lives. In 1973 (ironically, the same year as Roe v. Wade), a man named Andrew Lyons shot and killed a man. And his victim died in the hospital. The doctors tried to save him, but they couldn't. He was brain dead. But his heart was still beating. It turns out your heart has its own little motor independent of the brain. When you die, and have no brain activity at all, your heart's still going, at least for a couple of days. That's kind of freaky, right?

Anyway, these doctors talked to the victim's family. They explained that he was brain dead, and asked if they could transplant his still beating heart into somebody who needed a new heart. And the family said okay. Good for them.

At the time, California had a death statute that defined death as loss of heart and lung function. So Lyons' attorneys made this really evil argument that Lyons didn't kill anybody. He just shot the guy and killed his brain. The doctors actually finished him off when they took out his heart. So the judge squashed that argument by rewriting the law and saying total brain death was the standard of death in California. You know the attorneys were like, "You can't do that shit." And judge was like, "Overruled."

So right after this case the legislature said, "Yeah yeah, total brain death is the standard of death in California." And it was quickly adopted by all the rest of the states too. And the Pope signed on as well.

All of us like total brain death because you really are dead--once you got zero activity in the brain, man, forget it--but your heart's beating for a couple of days, circulating blood to all your organs, enough time to save a lot of lives. That's cool.

It's a little controversial, I guess. You don't want the doctors saying you're dead just cause they want your organs so bad. You'd be like, "Dude, I'm right here. I'm talking to you. You can't have my heart. I need it." You don't want to be a coma guy and have them jump the gun on you.

Of course, total brain death was not created with abortion in mind. As far as I'm concerned, that's a plus for the rule. It's not biased or politicized, it's not trying to win the abortion debate. It's a good rule, I think, plus it's handy for organ transplants. So you can actually save somebody's life after you kick off. That's nice, right?

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