The Lazarus Reflex

There’s a funny thing that can happen to you when you’re dead, not completely dead, but brain dead. Brain death is the irreversible end of all brain function caused by the death of cerebral neurons due to oxygen starvation.

In this state, it is possible for a patient to raise their arms and then drop them in a folded position on their chest by a reflex movement. A bit like the position that many Egyptian mummies were laid in. Here’s a video of it in a young boy, some viewers may find this upsetting:

A reflex movement is one where the neuronal signal controlling the movement goes through the spinal column and not the brain. This most likely evolved in a protective capacity, so that movements that get the person out of danger do not have to go through the brain and are therefore faster. Think about how bad it would have been if you had to actively think about removing your hand from a hot surface.

The most famous example of this is the ‘knee-jerk’ reflex when a patient is struck below the kneecap (or in my case, just above).

These reflexes are possible after brain death so long as the neurons involved are kept oxygenated. Which means, according to popular science writer Mary Roach in a 2009 talk, it might be conceivably possible to stimulate an orgasm in a brain dead patient by stimulating the sacral nerve, so long as it was still oxygenated…

Now that’s just cool.

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One Response to The Lazarus Reflex

  1. angela says:

    That video of that boy made me so sad.

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