The Living Dead - article in New Scientist

7 July 2001 page 39.

An article appeared on page 39 of New Scientist 7 July 2001 which discussed the problem of the definition of death.

It gave near the beginning the following comment:
As medicine advanced, it became apparent that death was not an event but a process.

Although the article was mainly about harvesting of organs for transplant, it is equally applicable to post mortem dissection. Once it is clear that the term "post mortem" has no real practical meaning in connection with a process that can only have an end when the very bones of the person have dissolved into dust, any procedure carried out to the detriment of the individual for the good of another individual or a profession becomes open to ethical debate.

The article discusses the way laws in different legislatures have changed to accommodate organ harvesting, required in so many instances before stem cell regeneration of organs becomes possible. The change has by no means been uniform, and cultural differences have produced phenomena such as hate mail to recipients of harvested organs. In the box on top of page 41 it says that people who have received harvested organs say that they feel that the original owner of the organ has provided them with more that tissue alone.

On page 40, it mentions the fact that it has been suggested that bodies whose organs are being harvested are routinely anaesthetised, as they have been known to exhibit signs that could be interpreted as consciousness, such as quickening of heart speed when cut open. (Anaesthesia vol 55, p105) These signs appear despite brain death criteria (as defined by lawyers) having been met.

The article ends with the comment that if people want more of what science has to offer in the future, then they have to see things clearly and demand a say in what is done.

It would appear that I am no means alone in suggesting that society will have to offer greater freedom of choice in what medical procedures are performed on citizens, from the conception to the very dissolution of their bones.


The following books can be purchased on line from or Follow the Amazon links even if you have no interest in purchasing, because they also carry further informaiton and reviews.

The Definition of Death
Stuart J. Youngner MD (Editor), Robert M. Arnold MD (Editor), Renie Schapiro MPH (Editor)

UK buyers
US buyers

Legal Definition of Death by Robert Carter


Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death (Public Anthropology)
by Margaret Lock

This item will be published on December 3, 2001.
There is a lot about it on the following link:
US And rather less detail here for UK buyers

The Removal, Retention and Use of Human Organs and Tissue from Post Mortem Examination
Click herefor full review off this site and opportunity to purchase.