Thanatology: What Is Life? When Is Death?

Death had always seemed a relatively simple and clearly definable end to life. It came when a man stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating. Today, that definition needs added definition. With mechanical heart and breathing aids, and intravenous feedings, doctors can keep patients technically alive in hospitals for months or even years while they are in a deep coma.

Many physicians now believe that the question "Is this patient dead?" should be answered largely on the basis of his electroencephalogram (EEC or "brain wave") tracings. "Although the heart has been enthroned through the ages as the sacred chalice of life's...

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