Although we have been told since 1968 that brain death is irreversible (“A definition of irreversible coma. Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to Examine the Definition of Brain Death”), some are beginning wonder whether, with newer technologies, that is still true. Bioquark CEO Ira S. Pastor offers some thoughts:
Despite the label of irreversibility associated with the 1968 Harvard Ad Hoc Committee definition, there are several documented cases in the literature of potential brain death reversal, primarily associated with younger subjects whose central nervous system maintained some degree of underlying neuroplasticity.
As most leaders in this field acknowledge that residual “nests” of neuronal activity and residual blood flow do indeed exist in the recently diagnosed brain-dead, it makes sense that such revivals are theoretically possible with the right neuro-regeneration and remodeling tools.
Additionally, it is widely acknowledged that supported brain-dead subjects can continue to maintain their own circulation, digestion, metabolism, excretion, hormonal balance, growth, sexual maturation, fetus gestation, wound healing, and spike a fever.Ira D. Pastor, “Is Death Reversible? Scientist Shows How ‘Brain Dead’ Patients Could Regenerate, Like Salamanders” at Epoch Times (May 20, 2022)
Human brains are immensely complex, which is one reason why it is difficult to be definitive about them.
We do know that the axolotl salamander can regenerate just about any tissue, including its brain:
Although the amphibian brain is comparatively simple, the axolotl has a genome ten times the size of the human one, which may prove to be part of the story. At any rate, many researchers now study axolotls for clues as to how human neural and other tissue might one day be regenerated.
The other thing worth keeping in mind is that natural death is a process. Doubtless, there is a “point of no return” but it may not always be a diagnosed brain death:
The study, now published online in the journal Open Biology, revealed just how many cells remain alive and thriving after an organism’s death. For example, stem cells in particular were found to be most active after death, fighting to stay alive and attempting to repair themselves for days, and in some cases weeks, after death. In addition, a process known as gene transcription, that Seeker explained as a cellular behavior associated with stress, immunity, inflammation,and cancer, also increased following death. Although the research was conducted on zebrafish and mice, they believe the same cellular activity could be observed in all living creatures.
“Not all cells are ‘dead’ when an organism dies,” senior author Peter Noble told Seeker. “Different cell types have different life spans, generation times and resilience to extreme stress.”
The fascinating discovery has been dubbed the “Twilight of Death,” and refers to the time period between death and decomposition where not all of the body’s cells are yet dead. The study researchers noted that their findings suggest death is more like a slow shutdown process and not the simple off-switch many imagine it to be. What’s more, better understanding of what happens when the body dies could lead to medical interventions aimed at delaying this process.Dana Dovey, “Life After Death, According To Science: Cells Fight To Stay Alive Long After Body Dies In ‘Twilight Of Death’” at Medical Daily (Jan 27, 2017) The paper is open access.
At any rate, the lights do not go out all at once and interventions that were not possible in 1968 (Harvard definition of brain death) may become possible.
You may also wish to read:
Can loved ones in a coma hear us? Modern brain imaging studies show that very often they can. And, with help from new technology, they can answer us too.
Can people in comas have abstract thoughts? Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor discusses how we might test for that ability. In the recent podcast, “Michael Egnor on Whether People in Comas Can Think,” Robert J. Marks raised an interesting point with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor: Can people in comas think abstractly or do they form thoughts only at a much more basic level, given how physically distressed they are? The answer might surprise you.