Trauma Surgeons Turning to Science Fiction: Inducing Suspended-Animation Hypothermia on Seriously Injured Patients

John Fisher
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Funded by the Defense Department, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is preparing to test a strategy and method to treat severally injured trauma patients at their hospital. Many trauma patients that come into hospitals actually bleed to death before doctors can heal them and, basically, stop the bleeding. However, dropping some critically injured people into a very deep chill, as low as 50 degrees actually, would put the trauma victims into a suspended animation. Basically, the patient would do into extreme hypothermia which would allow them to survive without brain damage for about an hour so surgeons can repair the damage done to the patient.

Victims bleeding badly from gunshots, stabs, car accidents, or other such injuries which cause their hearts to stop beating, are the ideal patients to be saved by this induced-hyperthermia. Currently when a patient in these circumstances has their heart stop beating, they only have a seven-percent chance to live.

The lead researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, who is a critical care specialist, noted that if a patient gets cold enough, "you [the patient] do OK with no blood for a while . . . . We think we can buy time. We think it's better than anything else we have at the moment, and could have a significant impact in saving a bunch of patients."

Is this good or bad? Personally, I like this option. As the lead researcher said, trauma victims that are bleeding out are likely to not have a very good chance of survival-seven percent-and this experimental procedure might result in major advancement in human biology. Currently, this method has been used with animals such as dogs and pigs; both have physiological biology very similar to humans (some breeds of pigs can even have organs transplanted into humans! That is called xenotransportation).

But there are major ethical concerns here, particularly with consent. Experimental procedures REQUIRE consent, but a trauma patient-who was shot, stabbed, or in a car accident-is likely NOT in the position to consent (where or not they are conscious). Therefore, this could open up physicians to a lot of liability.

Another ethical concern-which I recognize is legal because there are SO many checks and approvals that are required to be done-are the testing on animals. Some studies had sedated and bled animals until their hearts stopped, which is usually fatal. Then the experimenters flushed ice-cold fluids through the animal's arteries to deep-chill the brain, heart, and then the rest of the body. After two hours, they brought the animal back to life by warming it up gradually and restarting blood flow (adding blood to the animal). Miraculously, the vast majority of the animals SURVIVED this experiment and made FULL recoveries!! No cognitive/mental problems either! Researchers were surprised too, as all of those animals should have died from this experiment, but they almost all survived. Now I understand tests on animals are almost required to advance science and, moreover, on humans. But something leaves me a little uneasy about this.

Now combining the ethical concerns for humans and animals, I am very uneasy about doing this on humans in trauma situations without their consent. If they procedure doesn't work, of the hyperthermia actually causes its very own complications or injuries to the patient, I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't litigation.

But what do you think? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected] . You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.

 

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