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Waking up in a body bag: a morbid result of malpractice?

An out-of-state medical story has attracted attention in Michigan, as well as in other countries. Some might call what happened to an elderly man a miracle; others might call it unacceptable; others might simply call it terrifying.

Last week, a 78-year-old woke up in a place where no one wants to be. Not only was he in a funeral home, but he was in a body bag because the coroner had classified him as dead. Clearly, the elderly man was not dead. Now the public is looking for clarification regarding how something so horrific could happen.

One would think that diagnosing death would be quite simple. Medical professionals check heart and brain activity to detect life or death. In the case of the elderly man who "came back to life" in a body bag, his misdiagnosis might have been the result of a pacemaker.

Sources report that the subject in this somewhat haunting story has a pacemaker for a heart condition. An issue with that medical device likely made it seem as though the patient didn't have a heart beat, at least temporarily. Was it just bad timing that worked against the patient in this case or some sort of medical malpractice and negligence?

A coroner responded to the patient's home and pronounced him dead there. From there, the body was taken to the funeral home. No medical professionals are mentioned to have taken part in the diagnosis and care of the man. That could limit legal options from a medical malpractice perspective.

Still, something about this story has put people on edge. Should or could something have been handled differently to help prevent someone from waking up in a body bag just before he was to be embalmed? How do you feel about this incident and the general matter of diagnosing death?

Source: WAPT News, "Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home," Tammy Estwick, Feb. 28, 2014

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