Let us imagine for a minute that one of your parents was a victim of an automobile accident in which he or she suffered severe permanent brain damage and would never be able to breathe or have his heart beat spontaneously ever again. Would you tell the doctor to put he or she on a respirator and cardiac pacemaker to keep him “alive” as a vegetable, or would you tell the doctor to turn off the sustaining machines and let the heart and lungs stop operating “naturally”?
What would you do if your 89-year old grandmother had a terminal illness and was in much pain and suffering? Would you tell the doctor to keep her alive as long as possible or just make her comfortable and not prolong her misery by giving her medication?
These, and instances similar to these may have to be faced by us sometime in our future years. What complicates matters more these days is that there is no clear definition of physical death. Death had been traditionally defined before as the permanent cessation of a spontaneous heart beat and respiration. But medical science has rendered this definition almost meaningless now with the development and perfection of artificial sustainers, such as the respirator and cardiac pacemaker. Vital body functions may now be prolonged almost indefinitely by the use of artificial means.
Science had to think of a more correct definition for physical death. It was decided that death actually occurs in steps and follows a specific pattern. The first step is said to be clinical death. Clinical death takes place when the body’s vital functions of respiration and heartbeat cease. Unlike any of the other steps in the sequence of physical death, clinical death can be reversed. An example of this would be a drowning child. He could be pulled out of the water with all signs of respiration and heartbeat gone, but with the help of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and/or external cardiac compression be revived with no damage. But if clinical death occurs for too long a time, the next step sets in. This is brain death. When the brain dies, the body becomes a vegetable; inactive, passive, and unthinking. Before the age of machinery, even partial destruction of the brain meant certain death, but now man can be kept alive by having a machine or other artificial device take over the function that the destroyed part of the brain was responsible for. I know a man who is not able to breathe at all on his own; and if his respirator was ever turned off, it would only be a matter of minutes before he would die. Partial brain impairment no longer means death.
If the entire brain is destroyed through the lack of oxygen, biological and cellular death follow close behind, thus completing the entire death sequence. Man., through his own inventions, has complicated physical death so much that he even has difficulty in defining it and is now caught up in many relating moral problems. It is easy for us to become so involved in these problems and questions that arise that we completely lose sight of the real giver and taker of life — GOD. Man has become so powerful, or so he thinks, that he now has the strength to control life and death. We must never fall in the trap of trusting in man instead of God. Job spoke a profound truth when he confessed, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”