Interviewing Experts on Neurology

Apr 25, 2016

Contacting experts for an interview via email, letter, or person is an excellent way to provide more support or even rebuttal to one's research. For my class's research papers in my class AP Language and Composition, my teacher requested that we contact at least two experts in the field of our topic. Because I was researching "brain death and the measures taken to sustain life in brain dead patients," I contacted two neurology professors.

The questions I asked were the same for both:
1) Should there be a balance between science and faith, specifically in declaring patients brain dead? If so, how do you believe is one way it could be achieved?
2) If there is one aspect you could change about the standards or policies in diagnosing brain death currently, what would it be and why?

The first professor I contacted was a professor in neurology and neurosurgery at Yale Medical School and is known for helping establish important 2010 guidelines in determining brain death for the American Academy of Neurology.
His responses were:
1) "Faith in a divine being doesn't really enter the equation for me at all as a physician when it comes to brain death. It's a purely medical diagnosis."
2) "As for the standards, I was an author on the AAN Guidelines in 2010, and I think they're a great improvement on the guidelines from 1995. We tried to make it as clear as possible, so that the diagnosis could be made every single time with absolute certainty. I guess my hope would be that it (the standard created by the 2010 guidelines) would be adopted universally, at least in this country."

The second professor I contacted was a professor in neurology and medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth and is known for having served 28 years on the AAN Ethics, Law, & Humanities Committee as a chairman.
His responses were:
1) "In my opinion, the definition and determination of brain death should remain independent from religious faith and beliefs. That way, the same concepts and medical procedures can be applied equally to both religious believers and non-believers. Everyone dies. Death definition and determination should be based on biological concepts. The validity of brain death is based on a bio-philosophical concept: the cessation of function of the organism as a whole.
Incidentally, Roman Catholicism accepts brain death, as enunciated by Pope John Paul II in August 2000 in his address to transplant surgeons in Rome. I was part of the Vatican study process in the 1990s, making several trips to the Vatican under auspices of the Pontifical Academy of Life, to advocate the acceptance of brain death, leading to the Pope's announcement. In 2006, I traveled to the Vatican to participate in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences conference advocating brain death called "The Signs of Death" which is also available on the Vatican website. These trips and discussions were very interesting."
2) "Physicians need to make the determinations of brain death more rigorous, to prevent false-positive diagnoses, that occur from time to time because of physician carelessness. I advocate for relying on the "confirmatory tests" showing the absence of all blood flow to the brain."

This helps my research paper as I have professional insight on the matter of brain death, and it significantly guides my argument on my stance of whether drastic life-sustaining measures should be implemented on brain dead patients. I thank the professors for taking time to respond to my emails and be interviewed. They were also kind enough to give advice to me for my future academic endeavors! This was a positive experience overall and I learned much from it.