In the 8/3/05 US News interview between Betsy Querna and Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, the doctor makes several outrageously inaccurate statements in his comparison between brain death and the lack of neurological functioning of embryos. There is no homogenous “clump of cells” at any time in any human’s life. Brain death is the verifiable cessation of the organization and coherent function which makes the difference between a living organism and a dead one.
First, he calls the embryo a “lump of cells,” when the blastocyst, by definition has differentiated layers. In fact, the, inner cell mass as opposed to the outer trophoblast, is the part of the embryo that contains those cells we call stem cells. Another fact which we are only beginning to discover is that the embryo has polarity from the moments after the sperm penetrates the oocyte. By the time there are 16 or 32 cells, and most definitely by 150 cells are present, the stage embryonic stem cells when can be isolated and harvested, the probable future function of each cell appears to be determined.
Second, Dr. Gazzaniga discusses his idea of personhood and the concept of brain death. The human child could not meet his definition of person until after age one, if he truly believes that consciousness is the determining point. However, his most ridiculous comparison is that of the developing neural functioning of the embryo and the irreversible loss of function of the brain dead human, who has no blood flow to the brain stem.
Third, we do not kill brain dead people in order to harvest their organs. Again, by definition, they are dead already. “Brain death” is properly defined medically, and in most States legally, as cessation of function of the entire brain, including the brain stem as measured by electric activity and blood flow. In contrast to the patients with loss of function of their cortical brain, current medical technology is unable to support the heart and respiration of those whose brain stems have ceased functioning for more than a few days. Organ failure and breakdown is inevitable despite our best efforts and technology.