A California Law Led To Anne Heche Being Declared Dead Twice

Anne Heche in All Rise
(Image credit: OWN)

Last weekend Anne Heche passed away from injuries sustained in a terrible car accident. However, exactly when she died is actually less clear than you might think. Some media outlets declared Heche dead on Friday, while others did not report her death until Sunday. To the outside observer, they would have seen Heche’s death reported twice. 

On Friday the family of Anne Heche reported that the actress was brain dead. This caused many media outlets to report the actress as dead, because under California law, she was dead at the point that her brain function ceased. The law allows for death to be declared under two separate circumstances and reads in part… 

(a) An individual who has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead. A determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards.

Anne Heche was in a car accident on August 5th that caused a fire that destroyed her car and a home and burned her severely. She never regained consciousness after the accident and while initial reports indicated that the actress might survive, shortly after it became clear that Heche’s injuries were severe. By August 12 it was being reported that Heche was not expected to live and it was later that same day that the announcement came that she was brain dead. 

Heche’s brain had ceased to function on Friday, however she was kept on life support until Sunday so that her organs could be harvested for donation. It wasn’t until life support was turned off, and Heche stopped breathing, that other outlets reported the actress was truly dead. So some reported the actress as dead from a legal standpoint, while others waited until her body had completely shut down to use the word “dead.”

While certainly not the first time that somebody’s “death” has fallen into this gray area, it’s a place of both legal and philosophical confusion. The question of when somebody is truly dead is a difficult one to answer. While many outlets that announced Heche’s death on Friday, including CinemaBlend, specified that Heche was brain dead only on Friday, not everybody would truly consider that death, even if recovery was no longer possible at that point.

And just like individual people, media outlets are going to have different perspectives on the question. One newspaper or website might consider brain death to be death in the same way the California law does, while another’s editorial guidelines may require more than that, leading to some places to wait days to call the actress dead after so many others already have.

Anne Heche is being fondly remembered by those that knew her. For what it’s worth, many of the remembrances began on Friday, as it was that day that her friends and colleagues knew they had lost her.  

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.