When is a person really dead?

This is a question I needed to ask. My mom had cardiac arrest for 15 minutes, where the cause was internal bleeding. She was in the ICU for a week or so. While the doctors pressed me to remove her from life support – I did take an extra day or so.

English: Mayo Clinic Opus Building in Rocheste...

English: Mayo Clinic Opus Building in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it raises questions about medical care in other countries.  How soon would I be pressured to remove a person from life support, if we live in Canada, somewhere in Europe, or other places with universal health care?  Perhaps I should do a bit of research.  It seems decisions in the US are dictated by federal and state medical programs, as well as insurance company directives.

I wanted to insure they ran a brain image test. According to a Mayo Clinic answer at Mayo Clinic answer, it suggests to do the Glasgow Coma Scale test. It also suggests either the Computerized tomography (CT) or Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).. It took a week for a CT test to say there was sign of damage from stroke.

Then you got to look at the theological angle. Sure I can ask ministers that work for Central DuPage Hospital. But would they give me an objective perspective?

So I solicited opinions from the Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspectives. One Catholic priest put it is a practical way. Is being on life support curing a person? If not, what’s the point.

An Eastern Orthodox priest said this: “If the physicians say there is no chance of recovery then the life support equipment is just prolonging her death and may be removed.”

I did meet in a conference with the main physician, nurse, hospital chaplain, my cousin and her husband. The doctor did talk about the medicine, scientific, philosophical ethical and legal aspects of the situation. The protestant chaplain agrees with earlier sought spiritual perspectives. And I sought and used the answers from a Native American sweat lodge or Inipi.

Here are a couple of stories I’ll share:

This one from a friend:

“Over twenty years ago I was volunteer firefighter, and I was in training to become an EMT. Part of the training is to spend ten hours observing at a hospital. While at the hospital observing one evening, an ambulance came in with a woman in cardiac arrest, the EMTs on board had been doing CPR for fifteen minutes by then. Since the emergency room was very busy and it would be some time before a Doctor could pronounce the woman dead, the staff told me to do CPR on her as a way for me to practice. Well, I took this CPR very seriously, and I began speaking to her soul. Really commanding on her soul to come back, and after 45 minutes of me performing CPR she regained a heartbeat. The Emergency Room staff thought that was pretty miraculous, but the problem was, she did not want to be in that broken body anymore, and she wanted to move on.”

This one from me:

One day, I was sitting in a Native American gathering. There was a medicine man from their tradition and a clairvoyant medical doctor present. The doctor told a story of a man having a heart attack. Both the doctor and the medicine man were present. The doctor declared the man dead. The medicine man did some healing work. The doctor via clairvoyant vision, saw a light go back into the man’s body. The man awoke and everything was OK.

English: The interior of an Eastern Orthodox C...

English: The interior of an Eastern Orthodox Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m well into reading Proof of Heaven: A neurosurgeon’s journey into the afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D. You can see it is rated 4 out of five stars by 6000+ reviewers at Amazon (see Proof of Heaven at Amazon). You can get this via your local public library. He does an excellent job of describing what’s scientifically and medically going on. But he also describes some interesting spiritual stuff. Here’s a couple of tidbits:

  • While he is an occasion attendee of the Episcopal Church, he describes hearing an Om sound. This is similar to the Hindu and Tibetan traditions about the sound of creation.
  • He does talk about many dimensions in creation. Perhaps physics String Theory and multiple dimensions isn’t so far-fetched.

These words came from my friend Arthur:

I have Proof of Heaven. It is a great book. You might also want to read Anita Moorjani’s Dying to Be Me (see Amazon at Dying To Be Me at Amazon). She was dying of cancer and came back completely cured! She has many interesting things to say about the afterlife.

My mom was undergoing comfort care at a nursing home in Naperville.  It’s also rated in all categories as above average or excellent in the government medicare site Medicare website.  It has no complaints lodged against it, in the Better Business Bureau website.  My cousin Julie and I both toured this facility.  I insist they have visiting clergy members of the various Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions say prayers for her.  It’s the same thing I asked hospital chaplains to do.


My mom made the last transition the evening of October 4, 2013.  But back to my original question: when is a person really dead?

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