Looking for Signs of Life: A Christian Perspective on Defining and Determining Death

Christian Bioethics (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Looking to Scripture through the eyes of contemporary medical experience, I analyze the meaning of the criteria used for determining death, specifically in the light of Jesus’ final moments and the resurrection of the Shunammite’s son in 2 Kings, chapter 4. I argue that four theses are consistent with, and informed by, these passages that can help guide Christian belief and decision-making about how death is determined in the clinical context: (1) death is neither permanent nor irreversible; (2) something like the “brain dead” state is, at best, a confounding state that requires one to “pace and pray” or let go; (3) that the case for determining death by neurologic criteria depends on the “working togetherness” of the body's parts for the sake of impacting its environment; and (4) that the practice of neurologically-based death determination is a response to the problem of disaggregation of the human form into its organ systems that modern critical care medicine makes possible. I end with advice about how Christians might approach the debates over the law and practice even if they cannot come to a consensus.

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Adam Omelianchuk
Baylor College of Medicine

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