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Discussion with Gary Greenberg


I met Gary Greenberg in Kyoto this week and got an interview about brain death and organ transplants in Japan. Gary is a writer, a psychotherapist, and a lecturer at Connecticut University. He came to Japan to have a series of interviews on this topic, and I was the last person to have a chat with him. He asked me many questions such as Japanese attitude towards persistent vegitative state patients, the reason why there are people who believe brain dead patients are alive, and the meaning of consciousness in medicine and in philosophy. I couldn't convey my thoughts fully because English is my second language, but I hope our discussion will be helpful to his coming article on brain death and pvs.

Before meeting him I had read his article, "As Good As Dead: Is there really such a thing as brain death?," published in New Yorker Magazine, August 2001. Although published 5 years ago, this is a splendid paper on brain death, and I believe this might be one of the most excellent articles written on this topic in recent years. He had interviews with key persons, such as Alan Shewmon, Calixto Machado, and Stuart Youngner, and successfully showed important information that is rarely provided.

In his article he quotes the words of a physician:

"It took us years to get the public to understand what brain death was," Nathan said. "We had to train people in how to talk about it. Not that they're brain dead, but they're dead: 'What you see is the machine artificially keeping the body alive . . .' " He stopped and pointed to my notebook. "No, don't even use that. Say 'keeping the organs functioning.' " (web)

This is exactly the way of thinking that I want to reject most emphatically. We have to try to keep the diversity of ideas, in other words, the diversity of realities, about life and death. Some people think that brain dead patients are dead but others do not. In Japan, and probably in other countries too, about 30% of the whole population think that brain dead patients are alive. What we should do is not to brainwash those people, but to respect their way of thinking and feeling about life and death, because this is a topic of philosophy and spirituality, not that of natural science.

Dr. Tateo Sugimoto, a specialist on neurology, writes in his book that when his son became brain dead by a car accident he wasn't able to accept, as a father, that his 6-year-old son was dead, and hence he continued to think of his brain dead son as being alive until his heart stops beating, while he perfectly understood the concept of brain death as a physician. He was divided between two realities, namely, that of a physician and that of a father. In this case it is senseless to educate or enlighten him (sinse he is a specialist on brain medicine). Concerning this topic please read my Brain Dead Person and Two Aspects of Brain Dead Being and Current Debate on the Ethical Issues of Brain Death.

The debate on brain death is not over yet, at least in this country.

Photo: Lighthouse, Sakai, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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