Human Exceptionalism

Postmodernism Comes to Death Itself

In postmodernism, facts don’t matter as much as desired narratives, and now this view is being proposed as a way to define death itself–which would permit people to choose ahead of time when they were to be considered to have, as the Bard had it, shuffled off this mortal coil.

This is not a new idea and its most prominent advocate is probably the Georgetown University bioethicist Robert Veatch, who suggests that people decide for themselves when they will be considered dead for organ harvesting. From the story about all this in Reuters:

Most ordinary people, including most physicians, assume whether you’re dead or alive is a science question,” Veatch, a Georgetown University medical ethics professor who has lectured about death and dying for over three decades, told Reuters.

“In my view, it’s a philosophical and religious issue and different people have different views on the matter,” he said at a bioethics seminar at Georgetown’s Kennedy School of Ethics. Thanks to medical progress, terminally ill patients or victims of severe accidents can be kept on life support far beyond the point where they would have died naturally.

Veatch asked if being permanently unconscious and dependent on feeding and hydration tubes is still really life. If not, then people taken off that support are not killed, he argued, but are “made dead” or they “become dead”.

The traditional view is that death occurs when the heart and lungs stop. Since the 1970s, Western countries have defined it as the irreversible loss of the entire brain’s functions.But the brain stem can keep basic functions going — such as breathing — even in a permanent vegetative or comatose state.

So since 1973 Veatch has been advocating a third definition saying that death sets in when the higher brain functions–the thinking and feeling that make us human–are lost.This means death comes when consciousness is permanently lost, he said: “If you’ve got the substratum in your brain for consciousness, you’re alive. If that’s gone, you’re dead.” Veatch suggests the law set a default definition, most likely whole brain death, and let individuals opt out and sign a statement saying they want to be declared deceased either by cardio-respiratory death or higher brain death.

Except that it would be a fiction, based on a narrative that would have the effect of transforming death from a biological event into a sociological one. Moreover, it could well lead to the confusing circumstance of one living, breathing person being declared dead, while the patient in the next bed with the same symptoms would still be considered alive. And once we get to decide when we are dead, why limit it to the profoundly disabled. There are plenty of people who suffer terrible tragedies who consider their lives over: Why not just make it official? Worst of all, if some dead people were actually living, we couldn’t bury them–which I guess would create the need for someone to knock them on the head with a hammer or inject a drug to the “cadaver’s” beating heart to actually get the job done so that organs could be harvested. Hey, Jack Kevorkian is looking for work!

Maybe we should just ask plumbers what to do. At least they tend to have common sense.

Most Popular

Elections

Vote Your Conscience

At the 2016 Republican convention, Senator Ted Cruz spoke a controversial phrase: “vote your conscience.” I think about this phrase, this idea, fairly often. I’m not one to give advice on voting (or much else). But when asked for advice, I usually say, “Vote your conscience.” Sweet conscience! One of ... Read More
Elections

Vote Your Conscience

At the 2016 Republican convention, Senator Ted Cruz spoke a controversial phrase: “vote your conscience.” I think about this phrase, this idea, fairly often. I’m not one to give advice on voting (or much else). But when asked for advice, I usually say, “Vote your conscience.” Sweet conscience! One of ... Read More

Hunter Biden on Tape?

In a newly released recording, a man purported to be Hunter Biden is heard rambling about (a) his legal representation of Patrick Ho, a convicted former Hong Kong official he refers to as “the f***ing spy chief of China”; (b) his business dealings with Ye Jianming, the corrupt Chinese high roller, whom Hunter ... Read More

Hunter Biden on Tape?

In a newly released recording, a man purported to be Hunter Biden is heard rambling about (a) his legal representation of Patrick Ho, a convicted former Hong Kong official he refers to as “the f***ing spy chief of China”; (b) his business dealings with Ye Jianming, the corrupt Chinese high roller, whom Hunter ... Read More
Music

Stevie Nicks, Like Springsteen, Preaches and Preens

In the 1970s, Stevie Nicks and Bruce Springsteen made impressions on pop-music culture with romantic rock landmarks, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album and Springsteen’s Born to Run. But their new 2020 releases, Nicks’s single “Show Them the Way” and Springsteen’s Letter to You film and album, make the ... Read More
Music

Stevie Nicks, Like Springsteen, Preaches and Preens

In the 1970s, Stevie Nicks and Bruce Springsteen made impressions on pop-music culture with romantic rock landmarks, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album and Springsteen’s Born to Run. But their new 2020 releases, Nicks’s single “Show Them the Way” and Springsteen’s Letter to You film and album, make the ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More