Other researchers think the results tell us more about how anesthesia works rather than true brain death. “There is nothing deeper than flat line. Brain dead people have a flat EEG, that’s it,” says Andrew Goldfine, a professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College who specializes in disorders of consciousness.
Goldfine is not convinced the results have any significance for coma research. The case of the patient in Romania was highly unusual, he says. And since the EEG activity in both the patient and the cats was produced under the influence of pharmaceuticals, it is unlikely to occur naturally. “In reality it’s not an extra-deep coma, it’s coma plus anesthetics,” he says.
He notes that drugs have been known to produce odd effects at different doses, pointing to reports that some minimally conscious patients given the sleep drug Ambien appear to wake up from their comas for a short time.
Stephan Mayer, director of the neurological intensive care unit at Columbia University Medical Center, agrees the findings hold little insight into states beyond brain death, as the comas were produced under anesthesia, skipping over the trauma that put most coma patients in their condition. “I don’t believe it has huge implications for clinical practice,” he says. Mayer thinks that the study is interesting however, and that it shows "the way we conceptualize death is kind of more blurry than we thought in terms of what is actually happening physiologically.”