PSYC 3570 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Persistent Vegetative State, Akinetic Mutism, Brain Death
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-Isis is one of many deities who have been linked with the continued commerce between
life and death: one is always passing the other.
-Freud had the concept of death instinct. He named this concept Thanatos after the Greek
God who delivers a peaceful death. The Freudian concept was mostly rejected except for
those in neuroscientists who find it a heuristic idea to pair with PCD (cell death).
Thanatos is regarded as part of the larger process that generates new cells and maintains
organ function though not forever (there are other kinds of cell death as well. Accidents
can destroy cells and so can developmental, particularly genetic factors).
Ideas About the Nature and Meaning of Death
-Hinduism: birth, death, rebirth and then again recurring cycle.
-Death becomes of practical importance when communicating with others who hold
-Deadening can also be way of protecting the self and giving it another chance
-Von Hagens developed a tissue preservation experiment known as Iplastination;
Plastination replaces fluids in our bodies with polymers (polyesters) to result in an
odorless dummy that is studied by medical students. Often the focus is on one particular
body part: ie: nervous system. These seem to be stuck between life and death.
Death as Observed, Proclaimed, and Imagined:
-Shelley- perhaps the dead could be reanimated; death is not permanent and irreversible.
Perhaps, the “modern Prometheus” was about to begin. Just as Prometheus pilfered fire
from the gods as a gift to humans, so a Victor Frankenstein might harness lightning to the
alarming project of creating life. Shelley knew Prometheus suffered a terrible punishment
for his disobedience. Frankenstein was flawed- a warning to future scientists that
anticipates the gene splitters and cloners of today. Attitudes towards death and the dead
become more complex with the introduction of Frankenstein.
-Charles Darwin learned to distinguish between spiders that we either feigning death or
actually dead. Thanatomimesis is the simulation of death often to avoid being killed and
also is used in children’s play to master death-related anxiety. His observations
contributing to the unsettling realization that the dead may be only apparently so.
-Frankstein makes one question: maybe death is not permanent? More complex ideas of
death emerged along with Stoker’s Dracula and other fictional works. Darwin: difference
between spiders simulating death (thanatomimesis): stimulation of death to avoid being
killed and actual death. Observations contributed to realization that dead are only
apparently to be so.
-According to Islamic teachings, death is certain and final only when the soul has left the
-Epicurus offered a philosophy that has continued to influence many people. Epicurus ,
agreeing with Democritus, argued that the universe comprises atoms in motion and that
our own actions- indeed, our innermost thoughts and feelings- are shaped by the pattern
of past events. We live and die in a materialistic universe. Death is not much of anything-
simply one more event in a long sequence of events that has no intrinsic meaning or
value. We never actually experience death and the fact of death does not violate any
contract we might imagine that the gods have co-signed with us.
-Epicurus formed a community known as the Garden, in which like minded people-
women and men, poor and rich, slaves and free citizens- lived in equality and friendship.
Epicurus offered a model for harmonious living within a universe that does not seem to
care about wither our lives or deaths.
-Iseron: death as complex process over time. Epicurus: universe comprised moving of
atoms in motion, our actions are shaped by pattern of past events. Materialistic universe,
with death being an event of many that we go through.
-The Christian version was responsive to the need of people whom preferred to have a
version in which the universe is rule abiding and purposeful, and in which humans lives
and death do count for something. The Christian message regarding death can be read as
simple or complex.
-Lust, sexual feeling, thought, and activity- is intimately associated with death. Before
Christianity, other religions in the ancient world had emphasized a connection between
withering away and fertility. Life was regenerated through death. Careful observance of
rituals might persuade the gods to allow crops to succeed and babies to thrive. Sacrifices
(animal or human) could also help matters along- a little death here and there as a
payment for life. Christianity specified that sexuality itself is sinful and carries the death
penalty. Virginity and abstinence take on theological resonances. Suicide and matrydom
were seen as an alternative to sexual indulgence. Not only the "deathification of sex," but
also the "sexualisation of death" have been consequences of the concept put forth in the
gospel of James and other passages in the New Testament.
-Passionate and mystical union with God became an increasingly dominant theme in the
version of Christianity that became known to the world. Sexual union between humans
and their bonds of attachment were seen as less spiritual and worthy.
-New age movement view life as a journey through multiple lives. Death is a transition, a
door through which one passes on the way to the next life. This conception clearly differs
from others. Unlike the New Testament view, death is not a punishment for sexuality or
anything else. Life as a journey through multiple lives. Death as a transition to next life.
Alive and Dead working with words, concepts and ways of thinking available to us in
certain societies and times, still under construction. This can lead to increased or reduced
-A flat EEF is not impressive because the life and death of the spirit are not seen as by
products of brain activity. This view has some commonality with Islam and other
religious traditions that believe in a soul principle that is not entirely dependent on the
-Death becomes less abstract when represent as a person.
Death as Symbolic Construction
-Some see death as a symbolic construction, something we have cobbled together from our
experiences, guesswork, needs, and ignorance. Death is therefore subject to the same
rules and limitations as any other concept. This does not mean that death is unreal or
fictitious. Death is a concept we need because it has so many important referents,
associations, and consequences.
-People today are less likely to have direct, unfiltered encounters with dying and death
than in the past. We are frequently exposed to constructed depictions of dying and death
in the media and online. Male characters were six times more likely to instigate death and
female characters were twice as likely to be the victims. In American film, death is
distorted into a sensational stream of violent attacks by males with fear, injury, further
aggression and the absence of normal grief reactions as the most common response.
-Media shows death as a social disconnection and final abandonment, with death being
-Recent productions tend to present death as a social disconnection and final
abandonment. The meaning of the death to the individual is seldom the central issue.
-A child’s attempt to understand the nature and meaning of death is certainly not assisted
by the aggressive and violent constructions of death in popular movies.
Biomedical approaches to the Definition of Death
Traditional Determination of Death: most common signs of death have been lack of
respiration, pulse, and heartbeat, as well as failure to respond to stimuli such has light,
movement, and pain. Lowered body temperature and stiffness are also expected to appear
followed by a bloating and signs of decomposition.
-Those who suffered a stroke, epileptic seizure, or diabetic coma might also be
pronounced dead instead of receiving treatment.
-The status of the eye at death included 1. Segmentation and interruption of blood
circulation. 2. Haziness of the cornea and 3. Appearance of homogeneity and paleness.
Ways of Being Dead
-Medical advances have made it possible to maintain the body of a nonresponsive
individual for an indefinite period of time. The heart continues to beat; the respiratory
system continues to exchange its gases. Reflex responses may also be elicited. The
person, however, no longer seems to be there
Brain Death and the Harvard Criteria “beyond coma”
-In 1950s, it was recognized that some unresponsive patients were beyond coma, that is,
no electrophysiological activities could be detected from the brain. There was extensive
destruction of tissue. This became known as respirator brain.
-Created a primary guide for the determination of brain death but is now subject to
The Harvard Criteria
1. Unreceptive and unresponsive: no awareness is shown for external stimuli or inner need. The
unresponsiveness is complete even when ordinarily painful stimuli are applied
2. No movements and no spontaneous respiration or other spontaneous muscular movement.
3. No Reflexes present during neurophysiological examinations are absent.
4. A flat EEG: Electrodes attached to the scalp elicit a printout of electrical activity from the
living brain (brainwaves). The respirator brain does not demonstrate the usually pattern of peaks
and valleys. Instead it is a flat line.
5. No circulation to or within the brain. Without the oxygen and nutrition provided through
blood circulation, brain function soon terminates.