Life/Death

The expression “culture biomedicine” describes the ways that medicine has influenced the West and have branched off into it’s own culture. In the West, biomedicine is based on facts and nature. These facts have shaped the beliefs and ideas regarding health in Western societies. Biomedicine has played a very important role in influencing the medicine and healing treatments that patients in the West seek out. The biomedicine has created a culture through all of the new technologies that are being used to communicate, diagnose, and treat patients in the Western culture. It has been embedded into the West through commercials, pharmaceutical companies, magazines and other forms of advertisements. For example, as mentioned in the lecture the rise of penicillin became very popular due to advertisements, not the actual illnesses the pills were able to cure. Biomedicine has created a culture of new advances over the years such as pills, machines, cosmetic surgery etc.

It may be quite difficult to determine the relationship between life and death, which is why this is a very popular dichotomy. I personally believe that the difference is not that difficult to pinpoint. Based on my personal experiences, I would have to say that an individual is dead once the brain stops functioning. If an individual is placed on a ventilator and are non responsive, can not hear, eat, breath and there is no brain activity then that person is not alive. However, I consider someone to be alive when the person does not need life support and their organs, especially the brain and heart, are still active. These beliefs have came from both my culture and personal experiences. When my grandmother passed, she was on a ventilator and she was a vegetable non-responsive, no movements, eating, vowel movements etc., and the same thing happened to my father. So these are the things that have influenced my views on the relationship between life and death.

This dichotomy is accepted as true in western society for several reasons. We are taught that individual can become brain dead, isn’t that a form of death? Also, society and personal experiences have shaped this dichotomy by creating a clear and precise distinction between death and life. The two are not mutually exclusive, one can not be both alive and dead.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Matt Waldrop says:

    Hi Melissa –

    I thought your post on the life/death dichotomy was very interesting, and I am sorry to hear about your losses. That is a very tough situation that I have thankfully not yet experienced. For clinicians, the life/death dichotomy is extremely important because of people’s different views on life and death. While you have a very clear idea of what is life and what is death, a doctor might have a different viewpoint. One of the first things a doctor is taught is to do no harm. So in certain circumstances, a doctor might consider someone to be alive when others consider that person to be “dead”. An alternative to this dichotomy is that someone is dead when they can no longer be kept alive with medicine. There are potential drawbacks and positives to this alternative viewpoint. One positive is that is clear for doctors for caring purposes to keep people alive for as long as they can, but a potential drawback is the cost it might add to the healthcare system. I believe this dichotomy is hotly debated in biomedicine as well as in our Western society, and it is difficult to state something as fact in this particular dichotomy.

  2. Brannden McDonnell says:

    Hey Melissa,

    I’m sorry to hear about what you have had to go through, but I agree with everything you’ve had to say 100%. I think it is pretty obvious why clinicians should have to understand this dichotomy as their hands could have a great impact in it. From being a surgeon to a pharmacist, simply “taking a day off” and not giving your job your maximum effort could result in another person losing their life. The human body is too delicate to not stay focused on what the stakes are so high. Then if someone were to die due to a clinician’s error, not only is it greatly unfortunate for that person and their family/friends, but it could also end the career of the clinician too.

    The alternative to this dichotomy that I wanted to use was what you had already explained about a bit; when a person being kept alive solely by life support. Sure their body may be physically living, but they can never actually live again. They are practically one with a machine at that point and can be considered no longer “alive”. It is a horrible situation when something like that arises, but sometimes it is better to accept the natural progression of life and death and let nature run its course.

  3. Aaron Schmidt says:

    I think the life/death dichotomy is probably one of the hardest to distinguish. I work in an ER as a technician, and death is usually called within 30 minutes of no heart activity. This is usually the point where the brain is completely dead from a lack of oxygen. The problems come when someone is technically alive, but they are in a vegetative state. Their heart is beating, but there is most likely no brain activity. we cannot call these people dead, because there is still life in them, it just isn’t what we call normal. There may be a chance that they will get better, or that someone in a long-term coma will wake up. Our healthcare system works to keep people alive, and we can’t assume someone is dead if they are not aware and oriented.

    I think we are spending a lot of money keeping people alive that are in a brain dead or vegetative state. I think that if people can’t breath on their own over a certain period, or there is no measurable brain activity with an eeg or some other device, they could be considered dead. We are spending a lot of money and resources taking care of people that have no thoughts and don’t even know they are alive. If we had stricter controls on what is dead or alive, we would be wasting a lot less time, money, and resources. The drawbacks would be if we are not really sure if they are completely brain dead, or if we are unsure if they will wake up or get better. This would also offend families who don’t want their loved ones to die, and could offend some people’s religious ideals.

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