AUG 09, 2016 12:20 PM PDT

Death, as Determined by the Brain

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

It's said that the brain is the master organ of the body, as it controls nearly all of our physiological and psychological processes. Even the most primitive reflex of breathing is controlled by the brain, in an area known as the brain stem. But what happens when the brain is considered "dead?" How does the body able to seemingly go on when its master control has irreversibly expired?

A person is declared brain dead when doctors determine there's no more electrical activity in the brain or the brain stem. This means the communication lines between the brain and other vital organs, like the heart and lungs are permanently cut off. The patient's body may be able to sustain life temporarily after the brain dies, but this compensation wears out usually within an hour. But, with current technology, the body of a brain-dead patient may keep functioning, at a minimum for a while.

For some, having a working body with the help of equipment isn't equal to being alive. As Kenneth Goodman, director of the Bioethics Program at the University of Miami explained, "If you're brain-dead, you're dead, but [with technology], we can make the body do some of the things it used to do when you were alive." Watch the video to find out how medical advances are still unable to replace the brain in sustaining a body.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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