The Useful Dead VIII

We pro-lifers spend a lot of time talking about when life begins. Another important question is when life ends. Zach Dunlap almost found out the hard way.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Four months after he was declared brain dead and doctors were about to remove his organs for transplant, Zach Dunlap says he feels "pretty good."

Dunlap was pronounced dead Nov. 19 at United Regional Healthcare System in Wichita Falls, Texas, after he was injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident. His family approved having his organs harvested.

As family members were paying their last respects, he moved his foot and hand. He reacted to a pocketknife scraped across his foot and to pressure applied under a fingernail. After 48 days in the hospital, he was allowed to return home, where he continues to work on his recovery...

Dunlap, 21, of Frederick, said he has no recollection of the crash.

"I remember a little bit that was about an hour before the accident happened. But then about six hours before that, I remember," he said.

Dunlap said one thing he does remember is hearing the doctors pronounce him dead.

"I'm glad I couldn't get up and do what I wanted to do," he said.

His father, Doug, said he saw the results of the brain scan.

"There was no activity at all, no blood flow at all."

I have a vague memory that there was once a Twilight Zone episode along these lines; I think they found out the man was alive by seeing a tear roll down his cheek. This case, however, is real. Zach actually heard himself pronounced dead. It's a chilling thought.

I must say I'm confused about this concept of "brain death." If the test shows no blood flow to the brain, it seems to me either the test must be wrong or the human brain is capable of things we don't understand - like surviving without a blood supply. Obviously Zach wasn't dead, but he was about to have his organs harvested anyway.

The AP story fails to point out that the person who scraped the knife on Zach's foot was not part of the medical team. It was a cousin who had a feeling that Zach wasn't gone just yet. The other doctors and nurses who were supposed to know what was happening clearly did not. The big question is whether this was simple mistake, or a more sinister attempt to acquire Zach's organs for other patients. I have nothing against organ transplants. In fact, I know someone who desperately needs one right now. I'm pretty sure my friend would not want someone else to die needlessly in the process.

So, when does life end? How do we know? And how can we acquire organs for people who need them without taking life away from people, like Zach, who might be able to recover? All good questions, and I don't have answers. Here's one more question: how many other people have heard themselves pronounced brain dead, and gone on to actually feel their organs being cut out? There's a Twilight Zone story to think about.

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