Salon has a provocative excerpt from Dick Teresi’s new book, The Undead, which examines the difficulty of establishing when life has truly ceased, an issue that will only become infinitely thornier in the coming decades. The opening of “The Evolution of Death“:
“Michael DeVita of the University of Pittsburgh recalls making the rounds at a student teaching hospital with his interns in tow when he remembered that he had a patient upstairs who was near death. He sent a few of the young doctors ‘to check on Mr. Smith’ in Room 301 and to report back on whether he was dead yet. DeVita continued rounds with the remainder of the interns, but after some time had passed he wondered what happened to his emissaries of death. Trotting up to Mr. Smith’s room, he found them all paging through ‘The Washington Manual,’ the traditional handbook given to interns. But there is nothing in the manual that tells new doctors how to determine which patients are alive and which are dead.
Most of us would agree that King Tut and the other mummified ancient Egyptians are dead, and that you and I are alive. Somewhere in between these two states lies the moment of death. But where is that? The old standby — and not such a bad standard — is the stopping of the heart. But the stopping of a heart is anything but irreversible. We’ve seen hearts start up again on their own inside the body, outside the body, even in someone else’s body. Christian Barnard was the first to show us that a heart could stop in one body and be fired up in another. Due to the mountain of evidence to the contrary, it is comical to consider that “brain death” marks the moment of legal death in all fifty states.
The search for the moment of death continues, though hampered by the considerable legal apparatus that insists that it has already been found.”
Bernie, reborn, doing conga: