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Future Sight - Death Be Not Proud

Submitted by Joel on Thu, 05/02/2019 - 09:57

When I was in high school, I came across a poem about death that starts (read the full poem here):

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.

This poem always intrigued me, as it is a mocking of death and claiming to be the master of it. And more and more, we do become the masters of death. Just think of the changes in the DEFINITION of death. It's strange to think about, but people used to be buried with strings and bells in case they woke up, because death was when a person stopped breathing. It's rumored that the vigil over the body was called a 'wake' because of this idea, that the person might wake up. Since then, we've had more scientific methods to determine death. But not THAT much more scientific... checking for a pulse, basically. 

But is the heart stopping really death? People are often resuscitated with little or no ill effects. The heart keeps the blood flowing to vital organs including the brain, so it's definitely important. But isn't the brain the ultimate determination of death? Why aren't we checking for brain activity to determine death? That creates complications, though, too, as someone might be in a vegetative state while still having a heart beat. 

So what exactly is 'death'?

It's tough to define, isn't it? Almost as difficult as defining 'life'. But we all agree that if the brain stops functioning and the heart stops beating, then a person is dead, right? Not so fast! There have been scientists that have been able to remove a sheep's brain and REVIVE ACTIVITY AFTER HOURS


Well, they were pretty careful to test for responses without any possibility of regaining anything close to consciousness (another word that's very hard to define). But the possibility still remains... a brain might be revived HOURS after what we consider 'death' now. Being declared 'dead' would be quite an ordeal if this was possible.

Another interesting question, though, is what happens when we are able to cure everything that causes death? Right now, our best guess is that the human body has a sort of 'clock' that, when it reaches the end, starts shutting everything down. But what happens when we cure that? Can we actually CURE aging?

People living forever? Where will we put them all?

Well, it's not really curing death, just death by aging. We'll still have heart disease, cancer, car accidents, war, and many other interesting ways to die (like stupidity). But, yes, we are already living longer and longer. On the other hand, we're also reproducing less, too. Perhaps that's the answer? I don't know. 

Personally, I wouldn't mind living to be 500 years old. There's still so much I'd like to do and see! How about you? If we can reverse the effects of aging, would you want to live until someone decided to drive their car into your house? Let me know in the comments!

Your thoughts?

In our honoring choices training (end of life conversation planning), we learned that CPR "as seen on TV" gives us a wildly inaccurate view of success rates. 75% of TV patients who receive CPR are alive immediately after, and then 67% of patients survive in the long term. In reality, for all hospitalized adults, there is a 24.8% chance of survival for in-hospital CPR and live to be discharged. Or put another way - for all hospitalized adults, there is a 75.2% chance you will not live to leave the hospital. The rates for CPR in the wild have even lower success rates. So yes, it's possible, but the odds are not in your favor. 

Wow, I had no idea those were the statistics. Despite having served in a similar field, I never received the training you mention, which sounds like it would be really valuable. There are a lot of deep, meaningful conversations to be had around death, if only we all weren't so scared of it all the time.