Human Exceptionalism

Wrongly Declared “Brain Dead”

This kind of story sends a chill. Doctors at a Fresno hospital wrongly declared a patient to be dead by neurological criteria (a.k.a. brain death) when he wasn’t actually dead, resulting in a near harvesting of organs from a living patient. Luckily, the mistake was caught in time. The man died eleven days later.

There are several lessons to learn from such a story. First, organ procurement centers nation-wide need to create and agree to uniform and mandatory tests that are to be applied in determining death by neurological criteria. Second, the idea of having an organ donor card superseding advance directives needs to be rejected. Third, presumed consent to donate–wherein people would have to explicitly opt out of donating–needs to be rejected. The already required firewall between the medical team in charge of a patient’s care and those who would be involved in procuring organs must be continually reinforced and maintained.

Public confidence in organ donation is an inch deep. To maintain trust, it is absolutely necessary that the public never come to believe that doctors take short cuts to brain death declarations and they must be assured that no medical person will ever perceive a patient’s organs to be more valuable than their lives.

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