The cultural meaning of biomedicine is an important concept because it consists of an institutional history of biomedicine, the language of biomedical facts and the rituals associated with biomedicine.

My personal views on this dichotomy are that it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.  I believe life begins when a baby can live outside its mother’s body when they are viable, but death is a more difficult concept to describe. Is a person still alive when they are in a vegetative state?  Hard to say, because if a machine is keeping their brain alive and they would “die” without it, it does not seem like they are alive.

This is logical because a person that cannot function independent of a machine is not alive in my opinion.  However, there are instances when a person will only need to be on a machine for a period of time and then be taken off of it.  It is quite a dilemma for many because if there is a chance of recovery then most people will consent to it.  My views come from my own experience of parents’ having been on life support.  Most people feel very strongly one way or another on this issue.  I have experienced both scenarios.  One time it helped and another it did not.  My view is that prolonging life and avoiding death makes sense if there is a reasonable chance for recovery. 

In our society I believe this is a true viewpoint from most people’s point of view except those who are against it under any circumstances and feel they want to die naturally.  As I have said my views come from my own experience with this, and I do not know if everyone feels this way but I do.

Choices about when a person has really died are very individually based.



2 thoughts on “Life/Death

  1. I agree with your views on the dichotomy of life and death. On first thought, the difference between life and death seems very obvious. Something is either alive or it is not. However, biomedicine makes this dichotomy very unclear. Just like you said – when someone is brain dead, and cannot live without a machine, we are presented with a sort of Schrödinger’s cat – a human who is stuck in a state of being both alive and dead. So where do we go from there?

    It is important for physicians to understand that this dichotomy does not always exist as a dichotomy because very complicated social and political situations can arise from it (thinking back to the Teri Schaivo case many years ago on this one). Culturally, family members want their loved ones to be biologically alive, usually in hopes that some biomedical breakthrough will save them. Biomedically, this is not always possible and instead many resources may be wasted.

    As each person harbors their own views on the matter, I feel it is important for physicians to lean towards the biomedical approach to life and death. Their job is to save people, but that is not always possible. Instead, they could embrace the transition from life to death, rather than fight it, given the circumstances. This way, they can make the experience easier for both the patient and the family.

  2. I also agree with your views on the life/death dichotomy. I think that it is important for clinicians to understand that individual views on the difference between life and death can vary greatly, and that ultimately the patient (or whoever has been giving Power of Attorney) should decide whether life support is maintained when there is little hope of recovery. My personal view is that death occurs when brain function ceases. As far as life support is concerned, I believe that the decision is ultimately up to whoever has Power of Attorney. Sometimes long-term life support patients can make a recovery, but most of the time their chance of making a recovery is usually low. I also believe that individuals should have the right to voluntary euthanasia, if they so choose. For many individuals they are given the choice between dying a slow and often painful death on life support, or dying a slightly shorter and equally painful death off of life support. In these cases I believe voluntary euthanasia should be allowed. Currently voluntary euthanasia is illegal in the United States, while assisted suicide-which differs only in that the patient must be the one to administer the medication, is legal in Oregon, Washington, and Montana.
    In the end, the most important thing that a clinician must remember is that personal views on death can vary greatly, and that they should respect the wishes of those involved in making life/death decisions for their loved ones.

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