Warning: science content (seriously)

Many people wonder how the unfortunate man, John Graziano [video contains imagery of bodily harm and may be disturbing some people] is still alive due to the seriousness of his injuries. To summarize briefly, a car accident has caused a devastating head injury to this man, leaving a sizable hole in his head – approximately 1/3 of his head is missing. Allow me to explain how this is possible (I’ll keep things simple):

The brain is made of 4 main parts: the cortex, the limbic system/basal ganglia, the brainstem, and the cerebellum. The cortex has all of the major “higher functioning” responsibilities, such as judgment, problem solving, emotional control, speech, perception, etc. The limbic system/basal ganglia take care of things like neurotransmitter (NT) production, emotion, memory encoding, etc. The brainstem handles some NT production, automated bodily functions (breathing, sleeping, temperature control…), etc. And the cerebellum takes care of rhythms and balance. This is a GROSS oversimplification, but for today’s purposes this explanation contains enough detail to get the point.

Basically, a person can “survive” with almost all of their cortex destroyed, which is what happened in this case. This is because, as you may have picked out from the above, it is NOT the cortex that handles the bodily functions that fundamentally maintain us. Of course, without a functioning cortex we are unable to hunt for food, gather water, bathe, dress, and do all of those things that would keep us alive over a long period of time. But the functions that maintain breathing, core temperature, circadian rhythms, and sleep are still functioning. This means that with modern medical technology, a person can be kept alive with only their “lower” brain structures intact.


Personally, I hope that if something as horrible happens to me as has happened to Mr. Graziano, I will be lucky enough to have my brainstem destroyed so my loving family will not be obligated to maintain, and be forever emotionally attached to, the remainder of my body. I have the deepest sympathy for their family and I do not mean to be crass in saying so, but I must be honest.

This situation raises important, eternal questions for our society: Is being “alive” the most important end result of an accident? Doesn’t quality of life count for something? If there is no quality of life, would death be more desirable than a lifetime of near-vegetativeness and, possibly, constant discomfort? Do we as a society have to change our attitude towards life and dignity in order to better service our loved ones in times of crisis?


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