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Today I read this amazing radio interview transcript: Blurring The Line Between Life And Death and I was stunned. First, I need to say, I'm totally for organ-donation, so don't have doubts on that. After all, we all want a part of us to continue living even after we're gone and for most of us, having children is the way to do it. But an organ is also a part of us and if it lives, so do we (at least part of us). And since our death is something beyond our control, giving a piece of us to save someone, this is really a something. The ultimate good deed one could do during his lifetime.
So for me, there is no question whether organs should be donated or whether the organs should be kept alive by putting the body on artificial ventilation or so on. Yes, they should!
What struck me was the repeated questions - but if the heart is beating and you're still breathing, how could you be declared death? And that prompted me to share my thoughts here, even though I haven't done so for quite a while now.
All those question, they lead to only one place - and it is the question "what is life?". Let me put it this way. People find the idea of their bodies kept "alive" while they are gone disturbing. Well, did you know that even after the death, some cells still grow, multiply, essentially live?! For example hair or nails. Just that someone turned off the light doesn't necessarily mean for the cells to stop their existence. They will continue to do what they always do until they deplete their supplies of oxygen and nutrients. Which will happen eventually, if the blood is not circulating and if it is not being enriched with oxygen. But if it is, the cells just won't know there is no reason for them to live anymore. So they will continue living.
But that wouldn't make the person alive. Because we're much more than just bodies. And the fact that some cells continue living or that some organs are kept alive just don't mean that we are alive.
People don't like thinking about that but especially people who were sedated under general anesthesia would know it on some level. I mean, they put you some drugs and you're gone. And after you wake up, you know that they did something to you, that they opened you, just like any machine, that they tried to repair your parts and if they were successful, your life gets better. What's most important, your personality will also change because of what they did to you, because of the way it would affect your life. But on some level, you know so very well you're not your parts, you're something different, something BIG.
So there are two parts of this article which people have problems understanding.
First, without your brain, you are not alive, you do not exist. Because what defines our existence is our ability to perceive the reality and to react to it. And that happens in our brain. So if the brain is badly injured, then it's over. Because in your brain resides all your personality, all your memories, all your emotions, everything. So unless you've found a way to download them and load them in different place, once the brain stops functioning, the human being disappears. And it doesn't matter if the organs get ventilated and the blood circulates, whatever happens, that human being cannot be brought back to life! This is how doctors know when to pronounce someone death. Because they know what it takes to be alive!
Second, our body is just a machine. Just as our personality is merely an avatar. That one is hard to grasp, but it's true. I mean, think of all the stupid things you've done. Would you repeat them again? Some of them yes, others - no. And this is because our personality changes with time. It changes with our body, with our life, with our experience. Every little thing that happens to us affects our personality, it affects our idea of who we are. So our personality is not something constant. People with brain-tumors or with amnesia can behave differently than their previous selves. So our personality is not who we are, it's just the frame trough which we experience reality. Our body is also not who we are. People lose limbs, change organs, but apart from some personality changes, they are still the same. They have to do things differently, to adapt, but in their hearts, they are who they are.
So our body is nothing but a machine. A machine which has to carry us around, to help us experience the world, to give us a feeling of the world.
But it's just a machine. And when some of the parts stop functioning, our real selves, our soul might prefer to leave. Because its vessel can no longer serve its purpose.
So what's death? Death is just the soul leaving the body behind. Can we define it in strict medical sense? Hardly. Nobody knows when or why the soul will depart. There are patients with really bad injuries who eventually recuperate, there are patients with not so grave injuries who just decide they must go and they do it. Death is something beyond our understanding for the moment, because it's not our personality who decides it, but our soul. What doctors can do is prescribe certain tests to show whether the body can do its most primitive tasks or not. If it cannot breath on its own and there's no brain activity or no signs of higher brain activity required for a functioning mind...then the body is as good as dead. And anything you do to it after that point, it doesn't matter. Because the soul is gone and what is left is just a bunch of organic matter.
Why I bothered to write all this?
Because we learn more and more about the building blocks of our bodies. We know about genes and we can manipulate them, we can move organs from our body to the next, sooner or later, we'll be able to attach artificial organs to ourselves, artificial limbs, artificial memory storages...According to this article (Scientists rewrite rules of human reproduction), we could soon banish the menopause!  Just think of how women would be changed by this! How our society will change because of this! Eventually, we would learn how to transform ourselves. And we must know what is it that defines us human. It's not our body, as lovely as it is. It's not our personality, which evolves constantly. It's our soul. Everything in the material world is only a vessel for the soul to enjoy physical reality. And as long as our souls are pure and still learning and still enjoying being alive, we're human, we're here. 

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