Thursday, February 17, 2011

Doctors "Baffled" by Medical "Miracle"!

"Boy, 3, without cerebellum changes medical science"

"Boy born without cerebellum a 'mystery' to doctors"

"Medical miracle: New York boy living without cerebellum"

"Boy Living Without Cerebellum – A Medical Miracle"

"Child With Missing Cerebellum Shows Power of Human Spirit"

These are the headlines today in various news outlets, regarding Chase Britton, a three-year-old boy who (allegedly) has no cerebellum, and even more significantly, no pons - the part of the brain stem that controls respiration. And I'm sure that in the Orthodox community, this story will be picked up and presented to serve several purposes. It shows that, unlike Chazal, these know-it-all doctors really don't know anything! It shows that supernatural miracles take place! It shows that brain-stem death is not death!

Anyone who is thinking along these lines should read the following article at NeuroLogica: Reporting Medical Cases as Human Interest Stories: Chase Britton Edition.

The story of Chase Britton is marvelous and inspirational - but let's not make it into something that it isn't.


  1. Thank you for posting the review. The author of the review is a neurologist at Yale. A read through the comments reveals that Chase's mother sent him the MRI scan images, and the neurologist reports that indeed the pons is not absent, it is just atrophic(shrunken). You are totally correct that 1. this story already has been brought up as 'evidence' that physicians dont know enough to identify death by neurological criteria(brain death)(see the comment section of Torahmusings), and 2. that this story, understood accurately, has absolutely no bearing on the current discussion of the definition of death.

  2. "the neurologist reports that indeed the pons is not absent,"

    What article were you reading, noam?

  3. Noam--nowhere on that thread does it say that he saw the MRI. Unless you were lucky enough to see the page BEFORE Chase's mother posted "Any way you could remove my more detailed posts? I’m finding more and more links to this and had thought it was a more quiet forum of professionals. THANK YOU!!!!"

  4. Someone brought this in the comments on Hirhurim a couple of days ago as "proof" against the brain death camp.

    How absurd! It's well known that the brain is very adaptive and parts can assume functions of other parts. It shows how little some people are "getting it" on this subject. (And also explains, to extent, Rabbi Tendler's frustration.)

    As I commented there, show me a person who's been decapitated who's elbow has taken over his respiration and then you'll have something to talk about.

  5. This is from the comment section of the discussion that Rav Slifkin linked to(available here:

    Dr. Novella, the blog host, is a neurologist at Yale. I assume he saw the MRI scans, because he wrote the following, in response to the mother's comment that someone had told her that chase had the brain of a vegetable:

    # Steven Novellaon 15 Feb 2011 at 1:07 pm
    Yeah – the “brain of a vegetable” comment got me too. This is just nonsense. His cortex appears to be intact. The pons is atrophied, not absent, and this is not incompatible with consciousness.

    I also did not mention plasticity. When damage or developmental problems occur in utero, brain plasticity is still very high and the hardwiring can partly compensate. Sure, if you took a fully developed adult and removed that much of their pons they would probably be comatose, but that does not apply to a fetus.

    The comment is still there.

  6. I guess I should clarity. The neurologist does not state that he saw the films, however he is stating what is on them. Either he personally saw the films(what I think is probable) or at least he saw the reports. Either way, someone authoritative, the neurolgist posting or the radiologist who recorded the reading, have stated that the pons is present, just smaller than expected

  7. There is a well-known condition amongst neurologists--olivopontocerebellar atrophy, that typically afflicts adults. It, too, is compatible with consciousness, although the lifespan tends to be shortened in these individuals, and gait disturbances, Parkinsonian symptoms are common. They have atrophy of the pons and cerebellum.

    Lay publications have a tendency to exaggerate to make a story.

    The respiratory centers are in the medulla, and not the pons, to my knowledge, but I haven't the time to look this up. The centers may be scattered across the brainstem, but I know they are at least in the medulla.

  8. Dr. du Plessis certainly seems to be well-qualified, certainly seems to be well-acquainted with the case, and certainly seems to be "baffled."

    However, I agree that this has nothing to do with "brain death," as one cannot compare what can occur during the course of fetal development with what can occur in the aftermath of severe traumatic injury to an adult or child.

  9. SD, from the article...
    The story of Chase Britton is actually consistent with published case series – despite the fact that headlines declare doctors “baffled”.

    So no. He's not particularly surprised. Later he goes on to say that the boy's motor functions are what one would expect for a patient with this condition.

  10. It could be that they haven't studied out what would happen if the organ did not exist. There are still a lot of medical possibilities.


Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.