What is Death?
The exact moment of death is often the topic of many talk shows, books, and movies.
Historically the definition has been problematic but the most commonly accepted definition is the cessation of
heartbeat (cardiac activity) and breathing.
Death is the end of life as we know it. It is a biological concept that entails the cessation of the biological
functions such as heartbeat and breath that sustains life for humans, animals, and any other biological
Many causes for human death can be determined including accidents, the natural aging process, disease,
malnutrition, homicide, predator attacks, and suicide.
Human culture has created many traditions and beliefs centered around the concept of death, many related to
The advancing technology redefines death and makes the definition of death and the biological details of death
The exact moment of death is often the topic of many talk shows, books, and movies. Historically the definition
has been problematic but the most commonly accepted definition is the cessation of heartbeat (cardiac activity) and
The advances that science and the medical community have made over the years have often times cheated this
definition and expanded upon the "exactness" of the moment of death.
An example would be the development of CPR and medical equipment such as the defibrillation or "crash cart";
that have succeeded in restarting the heartbeat and prompted the term, "clinical death" to be invented.
Another death terminology that has become important in today's society is "brain death" or "biological death".
These two terms describe the electrical activity of the brain that can be monitored and recorded.
When there is no activity registered the patient is considered to be biologically dead or "brain dead". A
consistent pattern of "no electrical activity" being monitored of the brain will precipitate the doctor declaring
that the patient is now in a vegetative state.
This state means that the individual has no consciousness. There are those who will argue that death should be
determined to be when there is no "cognitive function", as determined by the death of the cerebral cortex which
encompasses definition of "the permanent and irreversible loss of cognitive function".
The EEG machine is used to determine brain electrical activity and hospitals have protocols in place for
administering and reading EEGs when making the determination of death.
| This article addresses the unique physical dynamics of the dying process. It is hoped that understanding the process of dying can bring a measure of comfort to those that are going through the process and also for those who are witnessing the process. Death Notice
Many individuals have the fear of being falsely diagnosed as being dead when they are in fact still alive. Many
movies and soap opera scenes have been written around this fear.
To prevent this occurring in reality first responders are usually not authorized to declare patients as being
"dead", and physicians and EMTs have protocol to follow in order to make the declaration of death to ensure that
false declarations of death are avoided at all cost.
There are several conditions that are noted, that if present than death can be assumed such as: mortal
decapitation, rigor mortis, livor mortis, decomposition of body tissue.
Definitions associated with death:
First responder - the first medical trained responder to arrive on a scene which can be
police, EMS, fire or a volunteer trained rescuer.
Decapitation - comes from the latin word caput, capitis, meaning head. It literally means
to have a person that has been beheaded. The head has been removed from a living organism. Usually it refers to an
intentional beheading by murder or execution but it can also occur accidentally as in an explosion or vehical
accident, industrial accident or other violent injury to the neck. Decapitation is alway fatal with death occuring
within seconds or minutes of the separation.
Rigor mortis - is the state of rigidity of a body that naturally occurs after the body
functions have ceased.
Livor mortis - is the pooling of blood in the part of the body which is at the lowest
EMT - Emergency Medical Technician
DNR - Do not resuscitation.
DOA - Dead on arrival.
CPR - Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is artificial blood circulation and artificial breath