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Student , Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art


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How does life/death manifest itself in the human brain? Is brain death the ultimate end stage of life?

Recently, I watched the TED talk “Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor (http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html), in which she discusses the experience of having a stroke from a scientific perspective. She was able to diagnose herself throughout the process, even as her brain functions slowed or stopped altogether. Her story gives rise to a very important question: what is the connection between life, death, and the human brain?

In my Bioelectricity class this week, we discussed the use of EEG’s to record brain waves. A patient whose EEG reading shows a lack of brain activity is declared to be “brain dead.” In the medical community, “brain death” is considered to be equivalent to “death.” However, many consider this definition of death to be problematic. Even when a patient exhibits a lack of brain activity, her or she may still have functioning organs. The circulatory and respiratory systems, for instance, have been observed to be active in people who are brain dead. Is it really appropriate to define death as the cessation of brain function? Or, should the medical definition of death be modified from its current form?


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    Mar 13 2012: I think that, with the constant changing technologies we have, the definition of death also changes. Yes, the activity in the brain ceases while other organs maintain their function, but there is no recovery from brain death, which is why this is the medical definition of death. There is a reason why multiple organ failures do not constitute death in the medical community. It is because we have the ability now to treat these failures or use alternative means to replicate organ function. If one day the time comes that we are able to "restart" the brain, the definition of death would change. The definition would then become a time when a body's organ function and brain both fail. The definition of death constantly changes as technology continues to improve.

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