assaulting/exsanguinating a brain-dead body

The recent controversies over two brain-dead women on life support leads me to this post. If the subject line sounds a little circumspect, it’s because I’m struggling to find the right words to deal with this.

Suppose I visit a brain-dead relative who is on life support in the hospital. Further suppose one of two preconditions:

  1. the decision has already been made to withdraw life support and harvest the organs for donation.


  1. the decision to withdraw life support has not yet been made.

Suppose that I now assault this brain-dead relative. Break bones, loosen teeth, whatever. What can I be charged with, assuming either of the above preconditions?

Suppose instead that I take steps to end my brain-dead relative’s metabolic activity. I’m hesitant to use the word “kill” here because this relative is already brain-dead. But let us suppose I physically withdraw their life support myself, or slit their wrists, or bisect their body, whatever. The brain is already dead, but now the heart stops and decomposition begins at the rate you would expect for a corpse. Assuming either of the above preconditions, what could I be charged with for these actions?

My guess would be that in either case as long as the person has not been declared dead, you’d be charged with whatever crimes you’d be charged with if you did it to anyone one else.

I’m sure a huge media storm would ensue, but as long as there’s no death certificate before you did this, the person is still legally alive and you would have murdered them. The fact that they were going to die anyways might complicate things, but I think the end result would be the same. Besides, if you ‘got away with it’ that would set a pretty messy precedent, IMO.

Most states make it illegal to desecrate a corpse so no matter what the situation it seems like you could be charged with a crime.

If they’ve been declared “brain-dead,” is that a legally different status than “dead”? Can a death certificate be issued for someone who is brain-dead but whose body is still engaged in metabolic activity (with or without the assistance of artificial life support)?

Abuse/Desecration of a corpse, yes, that makes sense. Of more interest/uncertainty: could I be charged with murder for taking steps to end the brain-dead person’s metabolic activity, e.g. stabbing them in the heart repeatedly with a big kitchen knife?

I have no idea what the law is, I just wanted to sympathize. I can see where you’d struggle finding the right words.

The title of this thread is a good example of why we mostly use fake names.

I have also been wondering about this. Let’s say you had a moment to disable the life support equipment, perhaps also breaking the door lock on the room on your way out to delay responders. What could you be charged with? You didn’t directly do anything to the brain-dead body. I can see some sort of vandalism like charge for tampering with the equipment and door. What else? I assume the state of Texas.

Intentionally interfering with medical personell to stop them from delivering care can get you in a metric ton of trouble up to murder. The magic question still falls back to, was this person “alive” legally. IIRC you can be charged with attempted murder if you assaulted a corpse believing it to be a live person.