How do we know someone is no longer alive?

Alex posted an item about stem cells living long after the body they inhabit is declared dead. This kind of discovery make you wonder what "dead" really means. IO9 posted an interview with Dick Teresi, author of the book The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers — How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death, who says medical doctors and scientists don't see death in the same way, and there are differences even among those groups.
Some patients are declared brain dead and then begin spontaneously breathing hours later. Medical scientists say it doesn't matter because most brain-dead patients do not come back to life, but a rigorous scientist would say that these cases speak loudly about the flaws in our criteria for death. And yes — death to a cardiologist means that your heart has stopped, and he can't get it to restart. But to a neurologist, it might mean something else. In 1968, a committee at Harvard Medical School put forth an article stating that there is a second kind of death: brain death. Even though your heart is still pumping, and you're still able to breathe on a ventilator, if your brain stem is down, you're dead. This theory was made law in all 50 states in 1981, so now in the U.S. we have two kinds of death: real death (cardiopulmonary death) and what some doctors call "pretty dead," or brain death. A cell biologist, on the other hand, may have a standard more rigorous than cardiologists or neurologists. They might want to see all one's cells dead, which we call putrefaction.

He goes on to talk about how our complex criteria for death has evolved over history, and where it may be tomorrow. Link -via Not Exactly Rocket Science

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The Dead Collector: Bring out yer dead. [a man puts a body on the cart]

Large Man with Dead Body: Here's one.

The Dead Collector: That'll be ninepence.

The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I'm not dead.

The Dead Collector: What?

Large Man with Dead Body: Nothing. There's your ninepence.

The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I'm not dead.

The Dead Collector: 'Ere, he says he's not dead.

Large Man with Dead Body: Yes he is.

The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I'm not.

The Dead Collector: He isn't.

Large Man with Dead Body: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.

The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I'm getting better.

Large Man with Dead Body: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.

The Dead Collector: Well, I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.

The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I don't want to go on the cart.

Large Man with Dead Body: Oh, don't be such a baby.

The Dead Collector: I can't take him.

The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I feel fine.

Large Man with Dead Body: Oh, do me a favor.

The Dead Collector: I can't.

Large Man with Dead Body: Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? He won't be long.

The Dead Collector: I promised I'd be at the Robinsons'. They've lost nine today.

Large Man with Dead Body: Well, when's your next round?

The Dead Collector: Thursday.

The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I think I'll go for a walk.

Large Man with Dead Body: You're not fooling anyone, you know. Isn't there anything you could do?

The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I feel happy. I feel happy.

[the Dead Collector glances up and down the street furtively, then silences the Body with his a whack of his club]
Large Man with Dead Body: Ah, thank you very much.

The Dead Collector: Not at all. See you on Thursday.

Large Man with Dead Body: Right.
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