How dead is dead? Scientists have long considered the puzzle. With modern medicine, clinical death is no longer death, only a pause if luck, and extreme medical competence, is on your side. Now, Yale researchers have queered the pitch further, by restoring some cellular activity in brains removed from slaughtered pigs. The brains—predictably—did not show sort of consciousness or alertness. The study, instead, showed that the death of brain cells could be halted and that some connections in the brain were restored, but without any meaningful form of awareness. The research, conducted by Yale University scientists, grew out of efforts to enhance the study of brain development, disorders and evolution.
Results of the experiment run contrary to long-held principles relating to the death of the brain—though these had been challenged in recent years by scientists—that vital cellular activity in the brain ceases almost immediately after oxygen and blood flow are cut off. The limited rejuvenation of activity was achieved four hours after death by infusing the brains with a special chemical solution. Although the team of scientists stressed that the study offers no immediate therapeutic benefits for humans, the results pave the way for new research that may ultimately help doctors find ways to revive brain function in patients for restoring brain cells damaged by injury or sickness. In the meanwhile, the study certainly blurs, even if by a tiny bit, the already foggy lines of death. This, in turn, introduces unprecedented complexities. For instance, with the march of research in restoring consciousness, how will our views on euthanasia change?