Sigh. We have repeatedly discussed the sloppy language used by media to discuss crucial moral issues--which is important because of the power of lexicon to materially impact our views. Now, the BBC is the latest media outlet to misuse the term "brain death," to apply to a South Korean patient in a PVS whose life support removal has been authorized by the country's supreme court. From the story:
South Korea's Supreme Court has upheld a landmark ruling giving a brain-dead woman the right to die. The court agreed to a request from the family of the 76-year-old woman, who has been comatose for a year, to remove her from life support. It is the first case of its kind in South Korea and follows a series of legal challenges...
South Korea's top court said that the sustained treatment of terminally ill patients such as in this case potentially violated a patient's dignity. "Whether to continue artificial life support and feeding for comatose patients is a matter that should be considered carefully," said the Supreme Court ruling. "If it is obvious that the patient in question will soon die judging from her conditions, we can conclude that she has already entered a phase of death. In this case, continued hospital treatment only serves to hurt her human dignity."
The title of the piece is, "South Korea Court Grants 'Right to Die." Huh? If someone is already dead--which is what brain dead is--how can she be described as "terminally ill" and granted "a right to die?" (This case is really about the right to remove unwanted life-sustaining treatment.) Also the children say this will relieve their mother's pain (from the AP story linked below). But if she's in pain, she isn't dead. (And if she's truly unconscious, she's not in pain.)
The use of brain dead to identify living cognitively devastated patients is not only unconscionably sloppy, but is just another way of dehumanizing those who are already way too dehumanized.