Ethical Foundations of Health Care: Responsibilities in Decision Making

By Jane Singleton; Susan McLaren | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
9
Definitions of life and death

Definition of life: 'The continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations.'

H. Spenser (1820-1903)


9.1 THE PROBLEMS

We have shown how the distinctions that were introduced in Section 1 can be used to assist analysis of the problem of euthanasia. Clearly, a fundamental issue that is related not only to euthanasia but also to organ donation, decisions about resuscitation, abortion, contraception, the use of fetal tissue and many more related areas, is how to define life and death. We need an analysis of the concepts of life and death in order to clarify our views about these issues and to ensure that a consistent view of life and death is being held over the whole range of these issues. A definition that is considered acceptable from one perspective might have to be rejected when the implications of this definition are appreciated in other life-and-death issues.

Another question that has to be addressed is the question of the relationship between the concepts of life and death as they are used at the beginning and end of life. Is it the case that concepts developed for use at the end of life, for example, can also be used at the beginning of life? If they cannot, what are the relevant differences between the end of life and the beginning of life that make it inappropriate to use the same concepts in each case?

In these discussions we shall also have to bear in mind why we need definitions of life and death. Reasons have already been given and, in addition, there are social,

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