Brain death and the "culture of life" regarding Terri Schiavo; Human compassion, love,
emotion, rationality, reality, and organ donation.
There's an aspect of the concept of human compassion that's been ignored in the course of the raging
controversy over the fate of Terri Schiavo's living body. No one has a legal obligation
to become an organ donor. No spouse or parent has a legal obligation to authorize the
donation of an organ of a brain-dead loved one to save the life of another. No one should harshly
judge the reluctance or refusal of the spouse or parent of a brain-dead loved one to
authorize such organ donation. Yet virtually everyone admires and respects decisions by
spouses or parents authorizing such donations in the midst of their own heartbreaking traumas.
That life is most precious of all
instills our abhorrence of palls
at times when our passion
impedes our compassion
for others at risk to face palls.
Virtually all emergency medical technicians know that to revive the body of a person who has been
dead more than twelve minutes (except, of course, those who have been dead even longer in freezing
water, which dramatically slows brain deterioration) is to revive a body without the part of the
brain necessary to make the body a person. That's why in most such circumstances emergency
technicians don't even try to revive the body of a person known to have been dead for more than
twelve minutes-- They know that to do so would be cruel unless the sole purpose were to be preserve
the opportunity for a spouse or relative to authorize organ donation (or to facilitate compliance
with an organ-donor symbol on the person's driver's license).
I don't harshly judge the Schindler's emotional blindness to the brain-dead state of their
daughter. Even though I don't believe I would succumb to such emotional blindness under
comparable circumstances, a parent's love of a child is so strong I certainly can't guarantee that
my rationality would overcome such emotions. (I do, however, harshly judge the Schindlers'
tendency to make irresponsible accusations impugning the integrity and motives of virtually everyone
who disagrees with their efforts to perpetuate life in their daughter's body.) My wife
and I have two wonderful sons, who occupy the center of our universe of affection. It is my
belief, however, that if I were confronted with overwhelming evidence that one of my sons were to be
brain-dead without any realistic hope of ever regaining any meaningful cognitive awareness or
function, I would find the best way to cope with such unbearable pain would be to honor what I
know to be his noble, compassionate, selfless nature by authorizing donation of organs to
save the lives of others. I would think to do otherwise would dishonor his noble and
I'm not an expert on all the criteria for organ donation, so I don't know whether death of the
cerebral cortex is the equivalent of "brain death" used in applying such criteria, but I
do know that I (and either of my sons) would prefer for such brain-death tragedy to be rendered less
painful by organ donation to save the lives of others. It seems to me that authorization of
organ donations to save the lives of others is far more compassionate than artificial* perpetuation of a physical body in which the part of the brain
necessary for personhood is dead. Recognizing (as did the trial judge in the Schiavo
case) that the medical evidence overwhelmingly established death of that part of Terri Schiavo's
brain may sound harsh, but reality is often harsh. Denying such reality does not change its
harshness. (*A feeding
tube is an artificial, rather than "natural," means to preserve life.)
Organ donations could have served the "culture of life" by saving the lives of others and
thereby rendered Terri Schiavo's tragic situation less meaningless, and, perhaps, less un
bearable. I'm not arguing that organs be donated without evidence that such would be the
wishes of the patient and/or whoever would be the lawful guardian or spokesman; rather, I'm merely
asserting that I would admire the compassion exemplified by organ donation far more than a decision
to perpetuate life in a brain-dead body while knowing that others needing donations to survive would
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30, 2005 #00 Daily Update at PoliSat.Com,
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commentary, but commentary
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