RELIGST 2M03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Endangerment, Organ Transplantation, Ernest Becker

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Death and Dying: Comparative Views
Sisters of the Good Death – Film
In the West
Slide 7 depicts Death personified as a skeletal figure
Slide 8 depicts the common image of the Grim Reaper; often
portrayed as skeletal, or as an elderly man almost always
carrying a scythe
The Grim Reapers purpose is to carry the souls of the dead to
the afterlife
In the East
Slide 9 Kali, a Hindu Goddess of Death
Slide 10 in Hindu tradition, Yama the God of Death and Lord of
Hell
Chief Dan George
Vancouver native who was a chief
“Death comes to us in many ways.
It is a broken flower,
In a carrot we eat,
Or in a small child.
Death is ugly and beautiful.
It is tragic and happy.
It is in everything and
It is everything.”
- 1982
Concepts of Death
Our reactions to death are learned; not biological
We learn how we are supposed to think, feel, and behave due to
our cultural values and the expectations place upon us by
society
We get excited talking about birth for new life, in almost every
culture, people discuss death with reluctance
The actual meaning and concepts of death differ from culture to
culture
In some culture, death involves different conditions; sleep,
illness, or reaching a certain age
In some cultures, death occurs only once
In the West, the total cessation of life is cellular death with
complete non-functionality
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Cellular Death – the process that results when the heartbeat
respiration, and brain activity cease
Brain Death – 1968 by Harvard Medical School Ad Hoc Committee
Brain death is the “irreversible cessation of functions of the
entire brain
Brain death is very important for organ transplantation as the
absolute death
In Japan, people will not take organs out of loved ones until
cardiac arrest because they believe the soul is still present
Transition – other forms of existence; continuous interactions
among dead and living; multiple deaths and rebirths
Ancestors are involved in daily life and always watching
Circular pattern of reincarnation
Other view death as final, with nothing occurring after death
End – absolute completion and end of life
Expressions of grief and mourning, funeral rituals, etc. are
affected by these perceptions
Definition of Death
Problematic to define death
“The act of dying; the end of life; the total and permanent
cessation of all the vital functions of an animal or plant.”
(Webster’s Dictionary)
Cultural and Religious Variations – e.g. South Pacific; Trukese
and Micronesia; Hinduism; Christianity; Buddhism
Some South Pacific cultures, death is when certain events occur
like sleep; one is thought to have died several times in their
life
A person can be defined as dead without meeting any definition
found in medical literature
Trukese believes life ends at the age of 40 because as you get
older, your body no longer works as it had, and by this age,
there’s no use if you cannot perform your social roles
Sensing that the end must be coming for the individual, they
prepare for their death at the age of 40
Hinduism imagine a circular pattern of life and death with
reincarnation into a new identity
Samsara – the repeating cycle of death and rebirth
Contrasts with Western tradition of one life
Die once; go to Heaven and live on
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