Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Have you heard this one: "How do you know when you are dead?"

The Law tells you.

I laughed out loud at the brekkie table this morning when I read this letter from Dr Craig French, director of intensive care, Western Health, Footscray, in The Age (which, for some reason, has been edited in the version on their website - it leaves out the funny bit:
The Victorian community can be reassured that, in our jurisdiction, there is no ambiguity or non-conformity [about when a person is dead]. All organ donors have died - they are not "near dead" or "good as dead". They are dead because section 41 of the Human Tissue Act 1982 provides a clear defintion of death for the purposes of the law in Victoria.
There you are. Isn't that a comfort. Our legislators define what death is and then tell you whether you meet up with their criterion or not so that doctors can start chopping bits out/off of you without fear of prosecution. This would be the same legislative powers that recently claimed to itself the right to define who is and who isn't a person for the sake of protecting doctors from legal prosecution when they decide it is "appropriate" to kill unborn babies.

As they say in the classics, there is a Monty Python skit for everything, and here is today's. Don't click on this if you are easily offended by...well...live organ transplants, I guess.

11 Comments:

At Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10:41:00 am , Anonymous Rebecca said...

I overhead you telling this joke when you came to collect The Age. I thought the punchline was "The Lord tells you"!

 
At Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10:49:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Mmm. That's true too... Probably a lot more so...

 
At Wednesday, October 22, 2008 11:44:00 am , Anonymous Clara said...

I thought you were going to tell us about the family who were told theri father was brain dead but survived 17 months. Perhaps he was 'legally dead' just not physically dead?
http://www.theage.com.au/national/costa-statovski-was-pronounced-brain-dead-he-died-17-months-later-20081021-55ji.html

 
At Wednesday, October 22, 2008 12:22:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Thanks for that one, Clara. Not quite so funny though...

Click here to read the whole story: http://www.theage.com.au/national/costa-statovski-was-pronounced-brain-dead-he-died-17-months-later-20081021-55ji.html

 
At Wednesday, October 22, 2008 12:26:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

It reminds me too of a Terry Pratchett character on the discworld, who puts a sign on her body when she goes astral travelling saying "I ain't dead".

 
At Wednesday, October 22, 2008 1:13:00 pm , Blogger Louise said...

They are dead because section 41 of the Human Tissue Act 1982 provides a clear defintion of death for the purposes of the law in Victoria.

The Law giveth and the Law taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Law (Section 41 of the Human Tissue Act 1982).

'Tis all of a piece.

And people wonder why I'd rather live in a Catholic Confessional State.

 
At Wednesday, October 22, 2008 1:15:00 pm , Blogger Louise said...

Ya gotta love the Pythons! They were prophetic without even knowing it. (Though occasionally blasphemous).

 
At Wednesday, October 22, 2008 7:55:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

They're not the only prophets to have been accused of blasphemy, though, are they?

 
At Thursday, October 23, 2008 8:04:00 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suggest that there are actually three relevant definitions of death that are being conflated. "Metaphysical death" is known with certainty only by God. It could be defined as the time when "the spirit returns to God, Who gave it." This is the point at which the moral claims of a living being no longer operate (although the body is still due the respect owed any human remains). The problem, of course, is that in our high-tech medical world, what observable criteria (for "clinical death") do we think correlate with metaphysical death? This is not so obvious as one might think. Virtually everyone agrees that the permanent absence of a heartbeat indicates death. How long do you have to wait until you're sure? What about pulseless electrical activity, where the heart continues to generate electrical signals but fails to beat? In the U.S., "brain death" has a very stringent definition, requiring the absence of any electrical activity anywhere above the spinal cord.

"Legal death" can be viewed as a codification of society's (hopefully carefully thought out) answers to at least 2 questions. First, what observable signs indicate when "metaphysical death" occurs. Second, what types of observations are vulnerable to error and/or abuse? The horror story at the link above shows that a person can be declared "dead" through carelessness or malice, but this would be true regardless of the criteria utilized to define legal death (For example, a person could erroneously be declared dead if the doctor carelessly failed to notice that the monitor was not properly connected). The story, horrifying as it is, is irrelevant to the question of whether "brain death", "cardiac death", or death defined by some other means correlates with "metaphysical death."

 
At Friday, October 24, 2008 7:33:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Well, now, here's a question. Who ever bothered about defining death before it became a matter of haste?

I mean, in the good ol' days, the best way to check if someone was dead was leave them for another hour, and if they got cold and stiff, you knew they were dead.

Oddly, there was some sense too about respecting the moment (which usually wasn't a "moment" in the sense of a couple of seconds but a period of time) and of "paying respect" to the departed.

The only reason we have to bother with such business as a definition of death these days is because we are in an awful hurry to do stuff with the bit of the human being that the departed spirit leaves behinds.

Makes you sort of think, doesn't it?

 
At Friday, October 24, 2008 10:36:00 am , Blogger Louise said...

The only reason we have to bother with such business as a definition of death these days is because we are in an awful hurry to do stuff with the bit of the human being that the departed spirit leaves behinds.

David nails it.

 

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