I've just completed Ian Wilson's classic The After Death Experience
(Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987) and highly recommend it for anyone pondering
survival after death, and its nature.
The issue of what defines clinical death crops up towards the end, and for myself it is the most terrifying part.
Wilson does not mean to scare-monger, and admits to being a registered organ donor himself. Yet, throughout the book he cannot help but admit that our
definitions of "clinical death" are hardly water-tight, and that by sheer luck some have arisen from icy waters after an hour of seeming death, or
from the mortician's table before being embalmed, and many were probably buried or cut-up alive. The fact that they might have already been hovering
outside the body hardly seems like a comforting mercy. Like abortions, people, even Kings, have been killed prematurely for social convenience. Wilson
discusses how King George V's death was "speeded up" with fatal doses of morphine by his physician (Lord Dawson of Penn) on the pretext of a more
"peaceful death", but ultimately it was to make the death (murder, really) coincide with the more "responsible morning newspapers", rather than the
less sympathetic evening press. Wilson notes: "Like the abortionist, therefore, Dawson's motive was none other than social convenience" (p.201).
Well, if this is what they do to kings, I wonder about organ donors?
Wilson mentions a number of "stringent" tests to determine death (scraping the cornea, squirting icy water in the ears, briefly switching off
breathing aparatus), and then the terrifying example:
Back in 1978 he (a British medical practitioner) was a junior surgeon who took part in an operation to remove the kidneys of a female patient who
had been involved in a road accident and had been certified 'brain dead'. ...Suddenly, to the junior doctor's horror, the 'dead' woman gasped for
breath, not merely once, but repeatedly. It was obvious that she was alive, even though she was without life support and now without any kidneys. As
the junior told interviewer Neville Hodgkinson of the Sunday Times: "I drew it to the consultant's attention; he did something then of which I very
much disapproved." That something, as he was reluctantly persuaded to reveal, was the removal of the tube routinely used to keep the airways open in a
deeply unconscious patient. Deprived of this support to life, within a few minutes the woman really was unequivocally dead. (Wilson, pp.
Wilson mentions some other doctors who refused to do transplant surgery.
Is one then better off dead for social convenience? At that point it's very socially inconvenient to come back to life. I mean, your just removed
organs are probably paid for and everything, so getting them back is very unlikely
As an HIV-positive person I thought those nighmarish, exceptional possibilities were beyond me. But now they've performed the first kidney transplant
between HIV patients in SA, and the issue of becomming a donor for another HIV-positive person resumes in my mind.
Are things better now - is clinical death/true death now more assured?
edit on 9-9-2010 by halfoldman because: spelling, citation mark errors
edit on 9-9-2010 by halfoldman because: missing comma, headline addition