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From what I can tell, it is not well defined, but at least in the US it has to do with cessation of cardiopulmonary functionality. Any reliable sources that give a definition of when a human being is considered to be no longer living?

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  • $\begingroup$ Really a legal question... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 20 '18 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ That's not true at all. Legality is different from country to country and some countries make laws based on biology or rejection thereof (ie abortion, transgenderism, etc.) The legality of it can be easily looked up (in the US it is the cessation of pulmonary and cardiac activity) but biologically (and philosophically) what do we consider as "alive?" Something that breathes? Something that has circulation? Metabolism? When you define what constitutes "alive", it is easy to define the opposite (e.g. a heartbeat means you are alive, therefore no heartbeat means you are dead). $\endgroup$ – J. Tate Feb 21 '18 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ OK, then it becomes a philosophical question :-) Because you can be "dead" in humanly-meaningful terms (that is, no brain function but have bodily functions kept going by life support) but be legally alive. Or if you die and your organs are harvested & transplanted, parts of you are still "alive". $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 22 '18 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ I have also asked the question on the philosophy SE so I am not sure what you are getting at... We have real world, medical/biological/scientific problems to deal with such as abortion, life support, IVF, etc. that all deal with the concept of when the scientific community declares life has started or ended. It is an incredibly relevant question medically, biologically, scientifically, and philosophically. What exactly is your point in trying to argue that? $\endgroup$ – J. Tate Feb 23 '18 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ My point is that the "scientific community" has declared no such thing. It doesn't really have a hard definition of life: are viruses alive, or prions? Or are they just complicated chemical reactions? With the issues you mention, it's not even a matter of defining life, but of the more complex question of personhood: that is, a fetus (or indeed, a sperm cell) is clearly "alive", but is it a person? Or at the other end, a brain-dead body on life support, or someone who's lost all cognitive capacity? Likewise transplanted organs, cultured cells... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 23 '18 at 21:07
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Although there exist some differing opinions mostly to do with brain function, the best answer is definitely the heartbeat. Here's why:

In some ways the human body really does operate like a machine. The process of delivering oxygenated blood is THE foremost example of a time-critical activity that must occur constantly in order to maintain life. That process stops when either breathing or pumping of the heart ceases, and since the circulation of the blood is more immediately critical than breathing it makes sense to place more weight on that criterion.

Some medical conditions can lead to a person being essentially "Brain-dead" before they are biologically dead, but these situations are almost always extreme outliers to the general discussion of alive vs dead. Furthermore, the arguments surrounding that state too often and too easily cross over into philosophical/metaphysical commentary.

The only serious wrinkle to the argument above is hypothermia. This wrinkle is encapsulated quite nicely in the old medics' axiom "You're not dead until you're warm and dead." And it is well documented that hypothermic patients can sometimes be revived after long periods of time - in excess of a half hour - using special techniques and equipment (to prevent frostbite).

Bottom line: Has the subject's heart been pumping any blood (including during CPR chest compressions) in the last 10 minutes? Is the subject hypothermic with a core temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit? Answers of "No." and "No." mean that the subject is no longer living.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do quite like your answer, but do you have any comments to make about a person being "brain dead" on life-support? I'm more familiar with debates about whether a person is "dead" or not when being kept on life support indefinitely. $\endgroup$ – GrumpyMammoth Nov 22 '17 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ After heavy research, I have determined that metabolism is what denotes something as alive. Obviously it is open to debate and many will disagree, but the ability to turn exterior means into nutrition (i.e. food for humans, light for plants, etc.) seems to be the core characteristic of what we consider "life" $\endgroup$ – J. Tate Feb 21 '18 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ But with modern medicine, it's possible to remove a heart and keep the person alive for hours (or even longer with artificial hearts) while a replacement is inserted. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 23 '18 at 21:09
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In the United States there is the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA) which defines death as either:

1.Irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions; or

2.Irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.

This purpose of this Act, which dates back to 1981, was to more closely align the legal and clinical definitions of death and to have a broader nationwide standard. This act was approved by leading medical and bar associations.

source: http://healthcare.findlaw.com/patient-rights/what-is-the-uniform-declaration-of-death-act-or-udda.html

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