My Response to Wesley Smith

January 5, 2014 — Leave a comment

My Response to Wesley Smith

Wesley SmithWesley Smith is the Author of the Book Culture of Death, the Assault on Medical Ethics in America. He also has a column on the National Review Human Exceptionalism. 

I have linked to his latest post up above. It is the response to a post that Dr. Paul Byrne wrote on Renew America, Jahi is not truly deadDr Paul Byrne

In his recent column, Wesley Smith said,

“I think that those who oppose “brain death” should argue their case vigorously, as Dr. Byrne does in this article. Please read it, all who are interested. It’s an important conversation”.

Comments on blog posts are very short and since mine comment is rather long, I decided to post it here.


I have been a huge fan of your since reading your book, Culture of Death. In Oct of 2011, I lost my son from complications due to an auto accident.

He was pronounced “brain dead”.

I knew very little of what brain death was until that time. Several months afterwards I began to research the topic.

As you wrote in your book, Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, a board-certified neurologist and psychiatrist, told you that many doctors make diagnoses of permanent unconsciousness after only a few days or weeks, although it takes at least three to six months to make a proper medical determination.

Dr. Fortanasce, gave you an example of a 60 year old man who collapsed and was unconscious. The internist urged the family to discontinue life support including nutrition.

He examined the patient and told them their dad did not have PVS but a brain seizure and to continue treating him. One week later he walked out of the hospital.

Hospitals, in the broad term, and doctors do make medical mistakes

Jahi Mcmath Whether any mistake has been made in the case of Jahi McMath or not, we do not know as there has been no release of her medical records.

In my son’s case the Apnea test was done wrong, starting the Pco2 above 64 and he was depraved of oxygen for 24 minutes. We requested a confirmatory blood flow test and I was in the room. As a mother of five children, I know what blood flow looks like via ultrasounds. There was blood flow and the radiology tech who conducted it told me there was blood flow but the doctor would go over the results. We were then told “well we expected some blood flow”.

Yet they pronounced him brain dead.

The medical records for both tests say “non-confirmatory for brain death.”

They agreed to give us one more day with Jamie but insisted in order to do that a DNR be placed on him.

So began my journey on understanding the concept of brain death.

In your original post which Dr. Byrne sited you wrote:

“Death by neurological criteria is controversial.” Is it controversial because there were 30 disparate sets of criteria published between 1968 and 1978 and as recent as 2008 it was reported that a survey of the leading neurologists in USA indicated that there is no consensus as to which set of criteria should be used? Yes, dead by one, but alive by the other 30 plus different sets of criteria. Further, in 2010 it was reported that neurologic criteria are not “evidence-based,” which means: not based on scientific studies.

I agree with you, there is an assault on medical ethics in America. No longer do we view a human being as a person if they have lost self-awareness, can’t communicate or be productive. You sited in your book concerning Peter Singer… Peter Singer contends that being human, in and of itself, is irrelevant to moral status; what counts is whether a “being” is a “person.”

I don’t agree with that definition and I felt from reading your book that you did not either.

Western culture has always placed an emphasis on the intrinsic worth and value of every human being. Yet over the years we are seeing the intrinsic worth of people become devalued and a person being defined by whatever bioethicists say they should be.

Dr. Alan Shewmon, as you know was once an advocate for organ donation but came to the conclusion, “that physiological life seems to involve mutual integration among all of the body’s parts. If that is so, then the cessation of brain function alone is not the same physiological state as being dead. The essence of human existence is the presence of integrated mind and body…. For the human to exist in any legal, moral, or socially significant sense, these two features must be present.”

No one in the medical field involved with organ transplants will admit that anyone has ever woken up from “brain death”. They all say it was a misdiagnosis. The tests weren’t done correctly. I have read it over and over again on the many cases of people declared brain dead and then waking up. “They weren’t really brain dead, the tests were done wrong.”

As one doctor told me when I mentioned the Zak Dunlap case to him, “I am sure the tests were done wrong, as no one wakes up from brain death.” This is their mantra, blame the tests, and the doctors or hospital that conducted them as wrong.

And yet…Zak woke up, after he was in the surgical unit,because his aunt and uncle both nurses ran a sharp object over his foot, “one last time”. His parents had already said good-bye to him. Had they not been there, had they not done that you and I both know Zak would not be alive today.

I am not naive, I see the conflict between the transplant surgeons wanting to get the organ’s quickly while they are fresh and the families wanting more time for the brain swelling to go down, to keep their loved one alive or let them go.

But…mistakes are made.

My opinion is to err on the side of the critically ill or severely injured person. I also agree with Dr. Robert Truog who is advocating to stop this legal fiction and tell people the TRUTH. You are not dead but you are severely ill or injured, may be dying, but not dead.

Tell people the truth so they will know exactly what “brain death”means.

I do agree the entire subject of brain death should be debated and I thank you for opening up that discussion on your blog. But with the organ industry a multi-billion dollar industry I am not confident that will happen.

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