Funerals at funeral homes in Cleveland Heights, OH are held after someone dies. However, there are several kinds of death that can occur before people are officially declared dead.
One type of death is brain death. If there is no neurological activity at all, then a person is declared brain dead (this, in medical terms, is considered as being legally dead). But even though there is no neurological activity in a person, modern technology and medicine can still keep the body alive without the person’s brain functioning at all. That means that a body without brain activity can be kept alive for a long time with artificial means.
Although it’s unusual for people who are brain dead to be kept on life support for an extended period of time, it is very common for people who have suffered brain death to be kept alive for a short period of time, especially if they are organ donors.
This kind of life support is necessary to keep the organs healthy until all the organ transplants can be arranged. Once all the organ transplants are arranged, the person who is brain dead is then taken off life support, and the organs are harvested for transport to the designated recipients.
Another type of death is circulatory death. Circulatory death happens when the heart stops beating, and blood stops circulating in the body to vital organs, including the brain (brain death can actually be the result of circulatory death).
Circulatory death is more commonly known as cardiac arrest and, unless a person has a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order in place, emergency responders or hospital staff will try to get their heart beating again, using one or all of these methods: CPR, adrenaline, and electric shock.
The more time that passes when the heart is stopped, the more likely that brain damage or brain death will happen. Most medical experts say that six minutes is the maximum amount of time the heart can be stopped before damage to the brain starts.
If a person’s heart is restarted before the brain dies completely, then significant brain damage has happened. This results in the person who was revived being in a persistent vegetative state.
A persistent vegetative state is defined as “chronic wakefulness without awareness.” People who are in a persistent vegetative state are legally considered to be alive even though their brains are dead, so unless they have living wills that dictate that they don’t want any extraordinary medical measures taken, they will be given feeding tubes and ventilators to be kept alive.
A very famous case of someone being in a persistent vegetative state is that of Karen Ann Quinlan.
In April 1975, Quinlan went on a very restrictive diet to try to fit into a new dress that she had purchased. A couple of weeks after starting the diet, on April 15, 1975, Quinlan, who had not eaten any food for two days, went to a friend’s birthday party at a local bar in Byram Township, New Jersey. While there, she consumed a few gin and tonics and took Valium.
Shortly afterward, Quinlan felt weak and dizzy, so her friends took her home and put her to bed. When her friends checked on her fifteen minutes later, Quinlan was not breathing.
Emergency services were called and paramedics began to try to revive Quinlan. While she regained normal skin color and resumed breathing, Quinlan was still unresponsive.
Quinlan was admitted to Newton Memorial Hospital in a comatose state. Because her brain had been deprived of oxygen for at least 20 minutes, the damage was irreversible, and Quinlan was in a persistent vegetative state.
Quinlan’s parents wanted their daughter removed from the ventilator, but the Morris County prosecutor threatened to charge the hospital with homicide if they removed the ventilator. Quinlan’s parents sued in September 1975 to have the ventilator removed, but their request was denied by a New Jersey Superior Court judge.
Finally, in 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Quinlan’s ventilator could be removed. However, Quinlan’s parents had not requested that her feeding tube be removed, so Quinlan lived for nine more years until June 1985, when she died from respiratory failure.