Another example of confusion in the terminology of ‘brain-death’

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 03, 2017

The Mexico City archdiocese gives us the sad news that Father José Miguel Machorro, who was stabbed by an assailant on the altar after celebrating Mass in May, has died. May he rest in peace.

While I mourn the priest’s death, however, I can’t help noticing the awkward form of the archdiocesan announcement. He has been pronounced brain-dead, we are told, “so one has to wait for the heart to stop beating.”

If the archdiocese is still waiting for his heart to stop beating, why announce his death now? More to the point, if his heart is beating, why pronounce him dead?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jjen009 - Aug. 05, 2017 6:08 PM ET USA

    What seems to me to be the issue here is hidden in the phrase 'brain dead.' This seems to smuggle in a kind of ghost-in-the-machine view of a human being - that the 'real' person is the mind. But the *whole* person is body and soul. A foetus, with arguably no mind yet, is a person. If you have to die on a ventilator - what can 'dead' mean but 'brain dead?' We would seem to have changed our fundamental ontology of what a human being *is*.

  • Posted by: jjen009 - Aug. 05, 2017 2:45 PM ET USA

    But my point is, if you are on a ventilator to maintain organ viability - are you actually dead?? I have horror stories in my brain of having my organs removed whilst I am unresponsive but conscious.

  • Posted by: FredC - Aug. 05, 2017 1:37 PM ET USA

    In the USA I hope that you must be brain dead AND that the ventilator is NECESSARY. Many people are on ventilators but who are obviously not dead. If the brain stem is working, a person can be "brain dead" and still be breathing on his own, with his heart still beating -- not needing a ventilator. Is he dead? The best criterion is "no blood circulation to the brain for at least one hour." But then the organs are not of much use.

  • Posted by: leeanne50 - Aug. 05, 2017 12:23 PM ET USA

    In the USA, in order to be a organ donor you must die while on a ventilator. It's the only way to maintain organ viability. If your not on ventilator you may be able donate bone or corneas. I hope this helps.

  • Posted by: jjen009 - Aug. 04, 2017 10:42 PM ET USA

    I am about to renew my driver's licence. In New Zealand it includes a place to tick if you want your organs to be available for transplant if you die in an accident. The form says that "...organ donation can only happen when a person is on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit." I confess this disturbs me and I have not ticked 'yes' on the form. Frankly, it sounds like 'harvesting' organs from a living person.