Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Death and ethics.

I came across this video on google today, and for the squeamish (or dog-lovers) it might be a tad disturbing.

Experiments in the Revival of Organisms

There is debate about if it is real footage. (If you haven't the stomach for it, they first show dog organs living outside of the body, then a dog head alive without a body, and finally, a dog that they drain all the blood out of, and then revive after 10min.)

Even if it's not totally true, watching it makes me asked myself two questions:

1) When does death occur?
2) Are experiments like this ethical?

Death seems so final to us at first glance, but with modern medicine we can not only keep death at bay longer and extend our lives, but we can revive those who have lost all signs of life. Death is at the core of religious faith, as most religions are concerned with what happens to the soul after death based on actions in life.

Only 100 years ago, and in many parts of the world still, death is called when breathing and heartbeat stops. But we know this doesn't have to be final, many people have been "brought back to life." So death has been re-defined in this day/age to mean cessation of brain-activity. These videos are from the 1940's, and with today's technology and knowledge a similar procedure is done on humans for up to an hour of near-frozen lifelessness during surgeries.

Are they dead? I haven't heard any personal stories of people who have been through this procedure, and I think it would be interesting if they experienced anything at all. If there was a soul, what is keeping it inside the body during this procedure?

This also has implications for how one experiences death. If the brain can stay alive for even a few minutes after the body has ceased to function, how much of death does one experience? Without blood flow to the brain, one quickly passes out, and this can induce out-of-body-experiences, but how long does that take? In cases of actual death, we will not be getting information from anyone who's experienced it.

The question about weather or not experiments like these are ethical is just as complicated. Are the dogs in pain? (Probably a bit.) Is killing animals for the betterment of human lives ok? I mean, we kill animals to eat all the time, or does it depend on the animal? And then, is it ethical based on what these experiments imply for the future of human society? Is it really ethical to just keep someone alive simply because it's possible? How much interference with the "natural process" is ok? In a day and age where I can easily take a vaccine for a virus that would have killed a person of 100 years ago, can we really draw a line?

Further experiments I've found, which involved grafting puppy heads onto full-grown dogs, don't seem as ethical to me. These dogs did not survive long after such procedures.

The line I think I would draw is at pain; if these experiments can be conducted while keeping pain to a minimum for the animal (but how could we tell?), and there is a greater purpose to the experiments, I could consider them ethical. It would personally cause me mental anguish to preform such an experiment, but I can understand that there are people out there who don't feel such a way.

If the product of the research will lesson the pain of humans, are our lives more important? Is there a line between keeping a paraplegic alive vs. keeping just someone's head alive in a jar?

I kind of just hope I don't ever have to actually answer most of these questions.

(For a little more history/information, this is a good article as well.)

2 Comments:

Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

I couldn't bring myself to watch it. Lots of the news I don't watch for similar reasons either.

But, I have my doubts that if a body is removed of blood for 10 minutes and then blood is pumped back in - that considerable damage hasn't been done to the organs and tissues which have been deprived of oxygen for 10 minutes.

11:10 PM  
Blogger new.atheist said...

I think that some of the claims are a little exaggerated, or some of the details have been left out. I'm sure a lot of dogs died or were brain-damaged before they got a few to survive the procedure in fairly good health. Thou the disembodied dog-heads did not live beyond a few minuets after they were revived, if they lived at all.

I think though that actually draining the blood from the body has some additional benefit so that it is easier to revive the body later... thou I am also not sure if the heart would really re-start unassisted.

Other people were doing similar experiments; Dr. George Poe was trying to create a respirator machine, and snuffed out many bunnies in order to revive them. Some unlucky rabbits were revived numerous times.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6830090

12:41 PM  

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