W5 Reflection: Life/Death

The dichotomy that I am choosing to analyze as part of the “culture of biomedicine” is the concept of life and death. In most Western ideas of ethno medicine, we want to believe that medical practices are universal and across the board, but we know that this is not the case. The dichotomy between life and death is an interesting one to examine because even though there are descriptions of these exact definitions in some medical texts, the actual “idea” of when a person is alive or dead varies in individuals. This can be because of their faith or their upbringing, or even events in their life that have given them an objective view on the subject. As explained in the lecture, there is a lot of controversy around when exactly a “life” begins. Is it at conception, the first heartbeat, or after a child has been born and left its mother’s womb? Much of the determination of this is based upon an individual’s religious beliefs. Personally, I view this from more of a biological perspective because of the many classes in biological sciences I have taken and believe that all cells are alive to begin with, but an individual does not become their own human being until conscious thought is possible with the development of neurons. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are different definitions of death depending on what aspect you are looking at and if medical intervention has been involved, depending on the patient and their family’s wishes. If a person does not wish to be placed on life support machinery to help them breathe while they are clinically determined to be “brain dead”, then it can be accepted that that individual probably believes that death begins once the brain cannot properly control breathing or other communication functions on its own. I believe that these many definitions of life and death are accepted in society because we can understand that each individual has their own perspective on the matter, and they are given the freedom to believe how they want.

5 thoughts on “W5 Reflection: Life/Death

  1. Hi Caitlin!
    I thought this dichotomy was pretty interesting as well. There are so many different ways to interpret both life and death, and you gave good examples of each in your post!
    I think it is important for clinicians to understand this dichotomy because in my opinion, there should be a person that can assign a category to a patient. I know that legalities are of course involved, but the judgment of a medical professional is something I highly value. There needs to be a line drawn somewhere, and someone with years of clinical experience could possibly have the best idea of where that line exists.
    Potential implications of a doctor taking life vs. death as a black and white issue could vary greatly. There is of course taking the religious views of a person into account, which may affect the way a family reacts to one’s death (or life). There are legal implications that can play into a decision as well, for example, if a doctor wanted to take a person off of life support against the wishes of the patient or guardian due to the doctor’s belief that the patient falls into the “death” category (or vice versa with keeping the patient on life support). I am sure there are countless other implications of a medical professional solely taking the life vs. death dichotomy as fact. It is something I would be interested to research further to see how those things are handled.
    Great post! Have a good weekend.

  2. This dichotomy is extremely interesting to me because it is such a controversial topic in today’s medical society. You gave some really good examples of the many ways the ideas of life and death are interpreted. I think this dichotomy is not only relevant in strictly the medical sense but it is a huge political topic also. Those who are pro-choice usually believe that life begins when conscious thought is possible, as you stated in your post. Those who are pro-life often believe with your statement that cells are alive to begin with. I think this dichotomy is extremely important for clinicians to understand. Clinicians are the people who make a lot of the tough decisions when it comes to the future of patients. If a clinician does not consider the many factors that account into life and death it can detrimental to the health care of the patient. For example, clinicians must be extremely sensitive to cases where keeping a person on life support can conflict with religious beliefs. If a clinician takes life and death as a fact as is not open to different views can have legal implications that could end their career. Life and death is such a sensitive and controversial it is crucial clinicians understand this dichotomy.

  3. Hey Caitlin,
    I have just finished reading your post about life versus death, and found it very interesting. I also agree that it is important to be able to make the distinction between life and death or life and not-life on either end of the spectrum. However, more importantly than that for a clinician is the ability to recognize that the definition of each is different for every individual. Every person has a varying idea of when life begins and when life ends, and these definitions can make medical care very difficult to manage. A clinician’s job in the case of dealing with when life begins and when life ends is being able to both respect the patient’s views and act according to those views. For this reason, if a clinician is unable to move past his or her own views on the subject for the purpose of respecting the patient’s desires or needs, the clinician is automatically causing more harm than good, which breaks the oath to do as much good as possible that all doctors take.
    For example, for a woman who is pregnant with a child that she is not able to keep for physical, mental, or economic reasons, the ability of her doctor for listen to her needs is incredibly important. If the doctor is unable to move past a belief that abortion is wrong, that doctor is putting the patient in an incredibly difficult position with no way to get out of it. Additionally, on the other end of the spectrum, if a doctor is unable to respect the wishes of a person who does not wish to be kept alive on a machine, that patient and that patient’s family are also put into a very difficult position. Overall, the clinician who is able to respect others’ views is the doctor who is best able to do the most good.
    Thank you for your post,

  4. Hi Caitlin! I thought you shared a very insightful post on the dichotomy of life and death. I appreciated the open- mindedness you had towards when discussing the topic. And I hope more clinicians share this viewpoint as well now and in the future. It’s important that everyone views it differently and it is such a sensitive discussion topic that it’s critical to keep an open mind rather than scrutinize and narrowly define life and death. Especially, in America where people struggle with identity and use culture and religion as a way to identify within a mixed community. It’s just one of those customs that health clinicians need to be accepting off and not necessarily test but encourage themselves to be accepting off and work around people’s perspectives life and death. It all goes back to having that necessary trust within the physician and the community. Only then can health services flourish. A strong foundation between the patient and clinician is necessary for success in medicine especially when the patient is confortable with its clinician as it makes the process go faster. However, going back to understanding the dichotomy of life and death clinicians in the western society must share a more open mind on top of their beliefs.

  5. I think this is a very important dichotomy for clinicians to understand because there is no finite answer. This topic of life and death will for than likely vary person to person not only depending on the circumstances surrounding the patient but also the closeness of their relationship. Logic does not always apply when an individual is not ready to move on or let go. The danger here is that if doctors take the life/death dichotomy as fact and only have a set of regulations where life starts and death begins is that you will start to invade on individuals rights and beliefs. Either way you look at it you will be making some one mad, for instance when determining when life starts. If you say at conception then you would be turning the process of abortion into murder going against pro choice groups. But then on the other side of the coin if you say life doesn’t start till a fetus can support itself outside the womb you are going against the pro life groups and will then be labeled a murderer by them. This is just one example because these are cultural choices people have stances on based on their beliefs. There are also the religious interpretations on this subject as well. Not only for life and death but also what is acceptable to do to the body after death and these are all things doctors have to take into consideration when dealing with these delicate issues.

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