When Is Somebody Dead?
Oh, how morbid. But is there any other place where faith and science intersect so orthogonally?
There is (supposed to be) a strict, medical definition of death. Are you sure there is? What if, for instance, “they” chose to change that definition? What if there was pressure to change that definition so that organ transplants could be made easier (and presumably, more effective)? Does that make you itchy? Does the thought that “this seems eminently abusable” creep into your brain? It did to me too. You may be interested in this.
Transplant surgeons rely on strict definitions of death to reassure would-be donors. Wary of the macabre suggestion that they are willing to exploit the dying for their organs, surgeons abide by a code known as the “dead donor rule,” which forbids removing body parts from the living.
Yet a few outspoken medical ethicists say the dead donor rule is broken all the time — and, perhaps even more surprising, that the rule itself should be abandoned. The dead donor rule, they argue, prevents some terminally ill patients from donating organs, even if they want to. And, they say, it has become clear that doctors will never be able to devise a coherent definition of death.
There is one person I can think of who, having faced it, knew enough about injury and death and faith to have intelligent things to say on the topic, Pope John Paul the Great. And if you got as weirded out by the implications in the Boston Globe article, I recommend this PDF version.
Hat tip to Rand Simberg for the link.