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Does the death of the body constitute death of the person?

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Course: Sociology 2h Examination no: 3274833 Matriculation no: 0232748 Word count: 2435 DOES THE DEATH OF THE BODY CONSTITUTE THE DEATH OF THE PERSON? Does the death of the body constitute death of the person? Introduction Death of the body and death of the person hold different meanings according to physicians, theologists, transplant surgeons and the public. Since the eighteenth century, biological death has focused on either the centralist or decentralist theory, which have shifted from the cessation of the heart to define death, to a more overall view of the body. Firstly, it is important to outline the historical and contemporary definitions of death, including a consideration of the recent term 'brain-stemmed death' (BSD) in relation to fears of confounding factors (Powner et al, 1996: 1219). When the body dies medically, all links with a former life are eradicated and the focus rapidly shifts to the next patient or donor recipient. However, for friends and relatives the deceased was a person with an identity, a past which will not be forgotten and this causes many to grieve and the person's social presence continues in their daily lives. The idea of a social death in relation to an actual death will be examined using examples of past and present rituals and beliefs such as, vampires and persistent vegetative state. Additionally, a brief consideration of the cultural differences between Japan and USA is necessary to question the passive acceptance of organ procurement and BSD in most of the developed world. ...read more.


Grief is not universal and can vary from talking to those who knew the deceased to inner emotional turmoil. Therefore, one must consider the social definition of death and to what extent the dichotomies of life (culture)/ death (nature) can be defined by physicians. Belief in the afterlife is a psychological response to a fear of the unknown, but social values often eradicate this instability by developing stories and myths surrounding death. Hence, human beings envisage a degree of continuation of the person that lived inside the body for their own sanity in the real world, or one would have to question whether the individual has any superiority over a corpse. In Chrisitianity, there is a firm belief that one's path is chosen and believers can find peace when they die, perhaps explaining why 90% of British people believe in some form of religion. Ideologies of vampires, clairvoyancy and ghosts are further examples of past and present attempts to either extend the life of an individual, or to physically express fear of the dead. Tarot cards and clairvoyants are constructions of late-modern society that attempt to contact the dead, conveying a strong disassociation between the death of the body and death of the person for many. Vampires have had a long history and the myth continues today in the media and children's imagination, emphasising a connection between life and death from a young age. ...read more.


Like the loss of a child, grieving takes on different forms, including talking to the deceased or visiting a grave, but this is not to be confused with insanity or belief in the supernatural. Social death is a natural process that in late modernity, society should allow individuals to decide whether they want to move on or simply adjust and find a place for the loved one in their lives. Ultimately, those "bereaved should be reassured that they may retain the deceased" instead of moving on as presumed by bereavement counselling (Walters, 1996: 23). Conclusion Death clearly has different meanings for the physicians treating the patient and those who were related to, or friends with, the deceased. Its definition has involved controversial discussions for centuries to determine the what constitutes death and ensure no mistakes are made in determining the end of life. Recent adoption of the term BSD in Japan, compared to the USA and Europe, has highlighted a more traditional attachment to the body and uncertainty surrounding cadaveric organ donors. Social and cultural death will rarely coincide with biological death and for an elderly person, they may be socially dead but biologically alive. In contrast, a widow or parent accepts the absence of a body but continues a social bond with the deceased through a variety or rituals. In conclusion, since the afterlife is unknown and the body decomposes, cultures establish different ways of continuing the existence of the dead due to the complexity of the death of a body and the attached social and self-identity. ...read more.

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