Diagnosing Death

It’s obviously a time to be thinking about death — not ideal for someone who suffers from thanatophobia — but sometimes you have to think about death in order to accept the absurdity of life in the first place.

All I can say is that it wasn’t me who started it.

First, we had Lady Bracknell:

…there’s a lot to be said for cremation. Because, apparently, if you choose burial, and your nearest and dearest cobble together the money for a fine headstone for your grave, that headstone will eventually fall over and become a birdbath for some pretty sinister-looking carrion crowsThe Perorations of Lady Bracknell: Twa Corbies

True. However, what you also have to bear in mind is that if you are cremated, Del Trotter will allow your ashes to accidentally be sucked up in a roadsweeper thingummy. And at least if you have a gravestone, there’s somewhere for family members to come and visit for a while before you get forgotten and neglected. Which is one of the negative things about death.

And then nobody likes the idea of gradually suffocating inside a coffin that has been buried with you still alive in it, do they? On the other hand, waking up inside a coffin that has just been placed in a furnace probably isn’t on my list of “top fun ways to die painfully” either.

Now I used to think that doctors were capable of successfully determining whether someone was alive or not, and I don’t mean like in the joke about the hunters…

…okay… there’s these two blokes out hunting, and one of them accidentally shoots the other in the head. The shooter, in somewhat of a state of panic, phones the emergency services, and says “I’ve just shot my friend in the head — it was an accident, but I think he’s dead — what do I do?”. The person on the other end of the line tells him to remain calm: “first, we’ll make sure he’s really dead.” The phone goes silent and the operator hears another gunshot: “Okay, he’s definitely dead… what do I do now?”

…no, I had expected that the special medical training doctors have, including all sorts of training on diseases and so on, would allow them to determine whether or not someone was alive. But seemingly not:

Doctors are being given tips to help them diagnose when someone is dead.BBC News: Doctors Get Death Diagnosis Tips

Bloody hell. If doctors are struggling to know whether or not someone’s dead, what chance have the rest of us got? I mean, is it possible that we could have a mild case of death without knowing about it?

Of course — to take a serious note for a moment — various hospitals are being used to study Near-Death Experiences at the moment.

Although many independent studies have shown that the brain reaches a ‘flatline’ state during clinical death, it has consistently been shown that 10-20% of people who are revived back to life report some activity of the mind…

While an absolute impossibility to many scientists, for those who have experienced them and their respective doctors they are real. The key for science is to determine whether these experiences are illusions or whether they are real.

During AWARE, investigators will place images strategically in hospital bays, such that they will only be visible by looking down from the ceiling and nowhere else. BBC News: Towards The Light

While I am aware that if people are capable of floating outside their bodies and experiencing stuff during periods of no brain activity, it might be possible that they could look down from the ceiling and see cards placed on high shelves, I just can’t see it happening. I would tend to imagine that if you were floating mid-way between this life and the next, on the one hand watching people trying to resuscitate you, and on the other being called by dead relatives, you would be concerned about whether or not you were going to live, you would be pleased at the knowledge that you do have a spirit independent of your body, and you’d not be spending the time studying what was on the shelves in the room.

So on that basis alone, I wouldn’t expect the experiment to produce a positive result. You also have the strict materialist interpretation which says it’s impossible anyway, but the anomalous — although mostly anecdotal — evidence does suggest it is maybe worth investigation.

So to recap: we’re all going to die, probably in pain, then we’ll either rot in the ground or our ashes will be sucked into a vacuum cleaner by mistake, and we’ll be forgotten about, but it’s okay because we’ll have floated off to meet our relatives by then. Meanwhile, the junior doctor will be poking through your ashes trying to determine if you are dead or not…

Sometimes I think life is too absurd to possibly be true. But that’s a whole nother theory :-)

6 Responses to “Diagnosing Death”

  1. Anonymous responds:

    This is a great post! Vampire legends got started due to several historical circumstances: one was that sometimes when grave robbers would open a casket, the corpse would be covered in blood due to the fact that (s)he was mistakenly buried alive. The unfortunate person would wake up in the casket and try to claw his way out, causing his fingers to bleed. As he suffocated, he’d claw at his neck and bite his lips, thus causing more of a bloody mess. These corpses were so horrific looking that those who viewed them made them into blood-sucking monsters.

    I think I’d rather be burned alive than suffocate. Suffocation takes too long. We need to discuss this further…

  2. chartroose responds:

    The above comment is mine. I don’t want anyone else claiming this masterpiece!

  3. JackP responds:

    You’ve also got the fact that the skin and gums recede after death, so if you dig up a relatively fresh corpse, it will appear that the teeth and nails have grown longer.

    A lot of people were concerned about the ‘buried alive’ thing - less so now - but I’ve heard tales of people having coffins designed where they could ring a bell on the surface and so on if this happened. It was obviously also something Poe thought about quite frequently…

    As far as death goes, I don’t have a ‘preferred method’. I’d very much rather still be alive, given the choice. Unless someone can prove to me that there is an afterlife first… and even then I don’t want to go yet!

  4. JackP responds:

    PS … if you’re meaning you were thinking of some sort of blog post challenge, I’d be up for it…

  5. Shannon responds:

    That’s hilarious imagining some spirit newly separated from his body hovering above a hectic hospital room scene while being sucked into some bright light other-world, and being intrigued by the odd placement of a card on a shelf. “What the… how did that get there?”

    Interesting about the vampire legend.

  6. chartroose responds:

    What kind of a blog post challenge, hmmm? Something Halloweenish, perhaps?

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