Death + Biology Death + Technology Death Ethics

Day 30: Bringing the Dead Back to (Some Kind of) Life

9 Things to Know About Reviving the Recently Dead
Greg Miller, Wired Magazine (July 30, 2014)

Great article in today’s Wired about research by Dr. David Casarett on methods used to revive, resuscitate, and bring back the dead. Casarett’s work is in his new book called Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead.

Interestingly, Greg Miller at Wired notes that:

Casarett is enthusiastic about the emerging technologies that are allowing doctors to save patients who would have been a lost cause in the very recent past. But these technologies come at a cost, he writes. They may restore life, but whether it’s a life worth living is another matter.

And while Casarett originally became a Doctor so that he could develop new technologies to bring back the dead, he’s now working in hospice and palliative care.

Sometimes staying dead is better than the ‘life’ a resuscitated person experiences.

The Death Reference Desk has featured a series of stories on the ins and outs of Do Not Resuscitate orders. And DNR tattoos. You can find those posts here.

Death + the Law Death Ethics Suicide

Give Terry Pratchett the Freedom to Die…

Sir Terry Pratchett Calls for Euthanasia Tribunals
Maev Kennedy, The Guardian (February 02, 2010)

Terry Pratchett: My Case for a Euthanasia Tribunal
Terry Pratchett, The Guardian (February 02, 2010)

Last week, the British writer Sir Terry Pratchett (he of Discworld fame) catapulted the ongoing UK discussion on Assisted Dying back into the news. This is a persistent topic in the UK and I have written about it quite a bit on Death Ref here.

Terry Pratchett (who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s) is asking that a tribunal system be set up in England which then evaluates an individual’s request to die. The goal of setting up the tribunals is to make sure that any person making this request is of sound mind and not being coerced into the situation. Suicide has been legal in England since 1961 but helping another person commit suicide is against the law. So, a number of legal and political battles have dealt with the limits of what “assisting” another person means.

I have discussed these issues quite bit in the Death + The Law section.

In so many ways, this issue just keeps going and going and going. So much so, I’ve been collecting various articles for months because they appear daily and posting each one would be a full-time job.

Terry Pratchett’s request for a new UK system (or, at least, something for England… Wales and Scotland might be on their own) is another article for the group.

The problem, of course, is that all these issues and arguments are really interesting and important to discuss/think about/mull over.

But even I get Assisted Dying debate fatigue, and thinking about death is my job. The biggest dilemma, it seems to me, is that death is a human “problem” without terminus. At least in the twenty-first century West. England is certainly taking its time with any permanent changes to the law. It’s a slow process, to be sure, but it is a process. Terry Pratchett’s request will go a long ways in helping change UK law.

In the event you are a person doing research on Assisted Dying and the plethora of issues related to this topic, here are the articles that I have been recently collecting.

To wit:

The Guardian on the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland: ‘Death tourism’ leads Swiss to consider ban on assisted suicide

The Guardian on an elderly couple who committed suicide together: Couple wrote to BBC to tell of suicide decision

The Guardian on tour in the Dignitas clinic: Inside the Dignitas house

New York Times Magazine article on Brain Death and Organ Donation (which are related….): When Does Death Start?

New York Times on End of Life Care in California: Months to Live: Weighing Medical Costs of End-of-Life Care

New York Times on End of Life sedation: Months to Live: Hard Choice for a Comfortable Death: Sedation

BBC News on push in Scotland for a Terry Pratchett-like law: Most MSPs oppose end-of-life bill


Radiolab: After Life… Now with John Troyer!

Radiolab: After Life
originally aired July 27, 2009.

So somehow John got on Radiolab. Sure, it’s only a few seconds, but MAN this guy gets around. In addition to our own professor of death, Radiolab serves up an author, a biologist, a neurological psychologist, a geologist and a paleontologist to pontificate in short vignettes about what happens when we die. Educational, quirky, evocative — you know the Radiolab drill.

(And if you don’t, do yourself a favor and give it a listen — Radiolab is consistently stellar.)

Death + Technology Death + the Law Death Ethics

Re-thinking the Definition of Death in Canada

Ethicist Seeks Law to Say When Dead Is Truly Dead
Tom Blackwell, National Post (July 16, 2009)

How and when an individual is determined to be dead is a persistent bio-ethical, medical, and philosophical debate. I came across this article on the debate in Canada and I think that it highlights a common set of points for any modern nation which uses life support machines. First and foremost, the entire debate about the definition of death is a human-made problem. The use of life support machines in the 1970s suddenly meant that individuals who might have normally died from heart failure could suddenly be kept alive for long periods of time, although artificially. The person might not be conscious and could have brain damage from a prolonged absence of oxygen but that same person’s heart might still beat.

Before the advent of life support machines, the heart stopped beating and the person died. Once it became clear that the human heart could be kept artificially beating, bio-medical attention turned towards a definition of death using brain activity. If the brain is not fully functioning, then most of what we call the “person” is also dead. This then led to debates (which continue today) about whether Whole Brain or Partial Brain criteria should be used to determine death. Philosophically, this is an interesting point: where is the “person” located in the modern body, the heart or the brain?


I am skipping through decades of debate with this particular post but it is most certainly an issue that Death Ref will continue to present. Here, too, is an interesting aside on the topic. Right before President George W. Bush left office, the President’s Council on Bioethics (which President Bush created in November 2001 and President Obama has since disbanded) released this report: Controversies in the Determination of Death: A White Paper by the President’s Council on Bioethics.

It’s a long report but worth reading. The President’s Council on Bioethics upheld the use of brain death criteria and suggests that the determination of death in America remain neurologically based. Given the intense social, legal, and political battle over Terri Schiavo during the beginning of President Bush’s second term, this is a most intriguing finding.