Thursday, 25 April 2013

When Is Dead Not Really Dead?

Most people regard cardiac arrest, or having a heart attack, as synonymous with death. However many do survive...

"Doctors have long believed that if someone is without a heartbeat for longer than about 20 minutes, the brain usually suffers irreparable damage. But this can be avoided... with good quality CPR and careful post-resuscitation care.", a BBC article claims.

Dr Sam Parnia, the director of resuscitation research at Stony Brook University in New York, has written a book called the Lazarus Effect. So named after the story in St John's Gospel whereby Jesus brings Lazarus back to life, four days after his funeral (read it here).

However, Parnia is still talking a matter of hours. This is still an incredible length of time after the heart has stopped. In the original article (see below), he speaks of the process of 'cooling' which induces a form of hibernation.

He does think we need to rethink when death begins. Technically hospitals do not declare a person to be dead until everything possible has been tried, however he seems to be suggesting that we maybe need to rethink where this point is.

One story that is cited in the article is this truly amazing one:
A 2011 report in the medical journal Resuscitation describes the case of a 30 year-old unnamed Japanese woman who was discovered dead in the woods at 8.32am. She had been there for several hours and her body temperature was 20 degrees. At hospital she was given adrenaline and hooked up to a special CPR machine. At 2:57pm, her heart restarted. She was discharged three weeks later "with slight left-sided weakness".
How many people would try to save this woman?

Parnia also speaks in the article about his fascination with 'near death experiences', which he claims around 10% of patients who have 'died' have.

Does science mean we need to think more carefully about death? Do you think we need to realise there is a midway point between 'alive' and 'dead'? How does Parnia's interests in NDE effect his view of resuscitation? What other implications are there for health care? 

Read full article here:

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