Meandering Monday about How We Know Whether They’ve Gone On

I was watching The Good Doctor, and they got into a transplant conflict. Doctor Murphy was struggling to save a Patient A, while Doctor Parks was pushing him to give up so Patient B (who was dying) could have Patient A’s heart. An ethical dilemma, that was finally resolved when it became obvious that Murphy had done everything possible to save Patient A but it was impossible, and then was able to miraculously rescue Patient A’s heart for Patient B.

Patient A wound up being divvied up to aid sixty some-odd patients.

For years I’ve heard people who won’t sign a donor card because they’re afraid that the doctors won’t try as hard to save them if they’re dying, and will even rush to declare them dead so they can harvest those precious body parts. This fear can become even more prevalent if we allow ourselves to slip into rationed socialized medicine, where some bureaucrat will decide whether it’s worth trying to save each of us.

Over the years, as our medical knowledge increases, the goalposts for declaring someone dead have moved, from observing whether they’re breathing, to checking heartbeat/pulse, to brain scans.

People have been declared to be in an unrecoverable vegetative state and then recovered. Or taken off life support and resumed breathing on their own.

Our ability to revive a person who is presumably dead has also increased, which brings up the question: WHEN is someone actually dead?

When you listen to people who were dead for some period of time speak of what they experienced before they were revived – out of body, near death experiences – you have to wonder about the human soul (or consciousness, if that sounds too religious to you.) No one knows where that part of us is stored – there doesn’t seem to be a scientific way to tell whether consciousness is gone and never coming back – it does, or it doesn’t.

Imagine the unfortunate people in the past who installed bells for the deceased to ring if they woke up after they were buried.

How do we know when a person is truly dead and gone? What discoveries will be made that will have people in the future bemoaning OUR ignorance in declaring people dead before their time?

Just saying… 

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Reaching Out

William Mangieri’s writing has been published on Daily Science Fiction and The Arcanist. His ninety or so short stories and related collections can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:

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