First Person Life

2006-01-21

Just when is a person or animal "dead"?

The frontiers of science are quickly going to force us to finally grapple with the definition of "death" in a way we never thought possible.

In recent research, extreme hypothermia has been induced in animals (originally, I saw research on dogs -- this research is on pigs) to put them in a state of "suspended animation" during which time the physical processes of metabolism on a cellular level are nearly non-existent and brain activity ceases entirely. This is accomplished by draining the patient's blood and replacing it with a chryogenic saline solution.

After medical personnel sew up the damage, the patient's blood is warmed and placed back in the body and the patient revived.

[MORE]

After obtaining a 90% success rate with pigs, a surgeon in Boston Massachussets is seeking to have automatic authorization to attempt the procedure on humans that would "probably die with only standard care."

There are a number of points at which this research intersects with theology:

When is someone "dead"?
- what about baptism in cases of still birth where the baby in the womb was alive?
- what if you were out getting water to baptize an adult and they (clinically) died before you got back?

What would the spiritual status of a person "revived" after such a procedure be?

I'm sure there are a bunch of other ways that this intersects with the faith... what else needs to be explored?

I'm sure we can gleen information from the resurrection miracles of the OT and the NT to examine the issue. I don't think we have a choice but to begin thinking about it. It will only be a matter of time that all of the legal hoops are jumped through and someone is able to try this on humans. What type of response is appropriate? What are the ethical implications for such a medical procedure? Should it be done at all? Why or why not?

Obviously, this will require deeper thought than a few blog posts. But as a faith community, we better start looking at this carefully.

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