The challenge of defining death continues to make front page news in the media.
The first weekend in May a story came out of a young man named Trenton McKinley in Mobile, Alabama who was crushed in an accident and showed no brain waves. Doctors told his parents he would not survive and suggested that they allow the doctors to harvest organs from their son to extend the lives of five other children. The day before the surgery to harvest the organs, Trenton regained consciousness and was able to talk with his parents. He is expected to recover.
At the same time in Liverpool, England, a 23-month-old boy named Alfie Evans died from a degenerative brain disease. The British courts would not allow the boy’s parents to take him to Italy for a treatment that the court thought would do no good. Several years ago an infant in London named Charlie Gard had a similar diagnosis, and the courts prevented the parents from taking their baby to the United States for treatment. Even Pope Francis got involved in the case of Alfie Evans, but to no avail. In England at least, defining death revolves around brain waves. The case of Trenton McKinley is going to bring new debate about the two cases in England where the courts overruled the parents.
Defining death has become a complicated issue. From a biblical standpoint, death is when the soul is separated from the body, and it is irreversible. The McKinley family is claiming that Trenton’s recovery is a miracle, but there are possible medical explanations for what happened. It is ironic that abortions are performed with no concern for the rights of the child, the parents, or someone else who might want to raise the child.
The Week published a survey of this question with references in the May 11, 2018, issue, page 14. It will be interesting to see if these cases bring any serious change in how the medical establishment deals with death, especially the death of a child.
–John N. Clayton