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University of Toronto St. George
Martha Shaffer

Sociology of Aging Class Notes Fall 2011, Class 12 I. Introduction The reading today (Endings by Michael Kearl) gives an account of two ap- proaches to death and dying that are prevalent in modern times: (1) One that is subjective, humanistic, and philosophical -- what is the meaning of life and death? (2) Another that is scientific and seeks an objective description of life and death hebrews- sheo this underworld of nothingness christianity- dante’s inferno islam- paradise, rest and relaxation, place of beauty Death was centred around religion, and mystical passageways, that per- meated western life in early centuries. II. Modernity and death According to the eminent British sociologist Anthony Giddens, the hallmark of modernity is “its purchasing of ontological security through institutions and routines that protect us from direct contact with madness, criminality, sexual- 1 ity, nature, and death.” Modernity represents “the exclusion of social life from fundamental existential issues which raise moral dilemmas for human beings.” 2 He’s saying that institutions have created a distance in reality Ex. a building in which we pump in air and control the sterile environment we are very much separated from nature, which is what Giddens is trying to say institutions do to our existential reality 1 Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pg. 156 2 Ibid  Shift in location of death · 49% in hospital · 31% LTC · 20% at home (Statistics Canada 2006) This is clearly very different from how life was even 100 years ago. 1/3 of all deaths had been among children. So much more death now is among older people, so less people now experience actually seeing death than before. Emphasis on the medical and scientific understanding of death -Technology in the mid 20th century allowed a distinction between cardiopulmonary function and brain function -So how can we now distinguish death if you can separate these two functions?  Description via euphemism “sleep,” “pass away,” “rest”  Medical and scientific aspects over mystical or magical notions · With better understanding of neuroscience, definitions of death came to emphasize brain functioning: e.g., “human death is the irre- versible cessation of functioning of the entire brain”3 3 David DeGrazia, "The Definition of Death", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = . · Harvard Medical School criteria for death that revised the two vital signs used before to evaluate whether someone is alive or dead:  (1) no response  (2) no breathing or moving  (3) no reflexes  (4) no sign of brain activity on two EEGs taken 24 hours apart Brain: cerebrum: higher function, four lobes, thinking, perceiving etc.; Brainstem/ cerebellum: simpler functions like respiration etc. Death in the modern era is no longer seen as a mystical passage, it is seen in a more scientific way III. Counter-currents and tensions  Philosophies that find meaning for death outside of religion o Existentialism, psychoanalytic theory (see Kearl) 1) Secular intellectual trends centred on the meaning of life and death a) existentialism Why did existential philoso
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