This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 10 table of contents.

Death and Dying

In 1968, the International Council of Medical Science established four criteria for diagnosing death:

1. Loss of all response to the environment

2. Complete abolition of reflexes and loss of muscle tone

3. Cessation of spontaneous respiration

4. Abrupt decline in arterial blood pressure

What is a modern definition of death?

More recently (around 1983) a simpler, more uniform definition was adopted by many American states: death is total and irreversible cessation of brain function.

In the 1800s doctors had to judge life and death on the basis of detectable heart sounds, pulse, temperature, pallor (paleness) of the skin, and rigor mortis (stiffness which occurs after death). All of these signs can be misleading in some cases. Consequently, fear of being buried alive approached a phobia for some people in the 1800s. Franz Hartmann, author of Premature Burial, located 700 cases of people being buried alive or narrowly escaping it. The Society for the Prevention of Premature Burial was founded in 1896, and in 1897 a patent was issued for a device for allowing an awakened corpse to signal people above ground.

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