When is dead really dead?

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By Jim Clark

One of the strange stories of the past week comes out of Texas, and it really can raise some ethical questions.

A 31-year-old man was injured four months ago in an ATV accident. He was declared brain-dead, but kept alive artificially so his organs could be harvested.

But recently, when officials were ready to work on him ... he moved.

Turns out he had been alive all the time, and even heard the doctor pronounce him dead.

Now he's recovering and says he feels pretty good, according to an Associated Press story.

Somewhere along the line, obviously, somebody goofed, including possibly the machines that read brain waves, but it now raises a bigger questions ... again: When is a person dead?

Remember Terri Schiavo? I was one of those who fought, verbally, to keep her alive. She was being fed by tubes but was breathing on her own. This man in Texas brings back all those arguments.

The first thing that is really scary is that he heard the doctor. Suppose he had been taken straight to the morgue or a funeral home and been embalmed. Would he have survived that? Would he have been buried alive? Even worse, would he have felt anything if he were cremated?

The other question, of course, is because he was being kept alive artificially, whose decision would it have been to "pull the plug." And how could that person be sure.

Makes you think twice about those "do not resuscitate" and "living will" things you sign, doesn't it.

My wife and I have always talked about not being kept alive artificially. My feeling was that if you're dead, you're dead.

Now I'm not so sure.

I'm interested in what you think. You can comment at the end of this column online, or you can answer the poll on our Web site.

THIS WEEK'S STYLEBOOK: This time we're all about capitalization. Some people get carried away, and capitalize everything under the sun.

Consider this sentence: This Spring, all the students at the High School will get lots of Sun as they study American History in the Great Outdoors.

There are only two words in that sentence - This and American - that should be capitalized. But don't laugh. I get releases like that all the time. I would prefer to get news releases with nothing capitalized than every other word. So please limit yourself to proper names.

And while we're talking about upper case and lower case, please never send news releases in all capital letters. I recently got one with a name like this: MCDONALD. Now most of us would know that it should be McDonald. But this name that I received wasn't that obvious. I couldn't reach the person who sent it in, so I went with my instinct ... which of course turned out to be wrong.

So please, type in upper and lower case.

THIS WEEK'S WEB SITE; The next time a storm is approaching and you want to see a radar image, try this one: http://www.intellicast.com/national/radar/ and then experiment with the choices to get a local image. Incidentally, there are no hyphens in this Web address, in case the computer puts one in there, and there are also no spaces.

Jim Clark is the editor of the Williston Pioneer Sun News. He can be reached at editor@willistonpioneer.com or at 528-3343.