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It has become easier than ever to be declared dead. Even if your brain is still generating brain waves, even if your heart is still beating, and even if blood is still coursing through your arteries and veins, in some situations, you can be declared dead. Fortunately for most us, only about 1 percent of us will ever be declared dead under "minimal death" rules. Unfortunately for that 1 percent, they are at risk of vivisection, their bodies being cut up to provide organs for transplant before they are quite ready to leave them.
The Line Between Life and Death Blurred by the Need for Organs to Transplant
Humans have never been entirely sure when it is that other humans die. The ancient Greeks used to cut off a finger before sending a body off for cremation. If the owner of the finger flinched, that was a cut sign death had not occurred. In the 1500's, executed prisoners were used for teaching anatomy lessons to medical students. Not infrequently the anatomy professor would show a still-beating heart to his students. In the 1800's, people would not be declared dead before the doctor tried to revive them with smelling salts. And in the twentieth century, if the doctor could not hear the beating of the heart through a stethoscope, the patient was declared dead.
All of that changed in 1954 when doctors performed the first organ transplant. Except for kidneys, of which we usually have a spare, doctors can't perform transplants until the original owner of the organ is finished using it, until death. However, at death, the organ is deprived of oxygen and its condition rapidly deteriorates.
A group of doctors known as the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to Examine the Definition of Brain Death came up with the clever idea of using "brain death" as a criterion for declaring a patient dead. In many cases, the patient might be in a deep coma, but the rest of the body was still viable, just waiting to be "harvested." First, the patient is taken off life support. Then the patient just needed to show no reflexes and no responses to the doctor with no movements. Then, instead of pulling the plug, the patient is reconnected to a ventilator to keep the organs alive until they can be removed.
The problem with this approach is that it shows that the brain stem is dead, but it does not prove that the neocortex, which enables people to be conscious, is dead. It's entirely possible that thousands of organs have been snatched from living people. "Death lite" had been created for the transplant industry.
RNA Indicates that Life Continues Far Longer Than Previously Realized
Scientists have known for some time that up to 500 different genes in mice and zebrafish remain active for up to 48 hours after death. These genes, which are chains of DNA, are known to be directing the creation of RNA to make proteins that could heal damaged tissues. But what about gene activity after death in humans?