Teresi's book is filled with disturbing evidence that "brain death" as it is practiced today is not a scientific concept, but essentially a religious or philosophical one administered by doctors untrained in either discipline.
Among the most chilling details Teresi brings back from the land of the undead: The allegedly dead bodies are given anesthetic before their organs are harvested. Why? Because doctors found that, otherwise, blood pressure spiked during surgery in a way that we associate with pain or trauma. But how can a dead body feel pain?
McMahon's lawsuit is rife with similar peculiarities. In November 2011, he says, a woman who had suffered a drug overdose was admitted to Staten Island University Hospital and declared brain dead. Her body was still jerking and she had other signs of brain activity. He noticed she was being given a "paralyzing anesthetic," perhaps to make her appear more dead.
On Nov. 4, McMahon told Helen Irving, president and CEO of the New York Organ Donor Network, that one in five patients declared brain dead showed signs of brain activity at the time death was declared. Irving allegedly replied, "This is how things are done."
"If you wait for everything to be a hundred percent," a physician told Teresi, "you'd never have organ donation."
Brain-dead patients often show many signs of life: They move, get goose bumps, heal from wounds and even grow. When Alan Shewmon presented evidence of this at a 2000 conference, doctors responded that the human is nonetheless dead in these cases because the "person" is missing.
From a scientific standpoint, this is very close kin to saying cutting out this human's heart would not be murder because his soul had already flown to God.
Maybe so, but who are doctors to say?
If the medical profession is growing used to killing, the fault is not theirs, but ours. It's a convenient fiction that McMahon's lawsuit gives us a new chance to seriously reconsider.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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