X-Message-Number: 5946
From: John Sharman <>
Newsgroups: sci.cryonics
Subject: Re: Cryonics/Legal/Gerbils
Date: Sat, 16 Mar 96 20:32:37 GMT
Message-ID: <>
References: <> <>

In article <>  "Brian Wowk" writes:

> In <> John Sharman <>
>  writes:
> >>         Death BY DEFINITION is an irreversible state.
> >I do not accept this. By *whose* definition? In what context? Legal?
> >Medical? Common parlance? It is fair to say that in most human contexts
> >we do *treat* death as irreversible - but that's because no-one as yet has
> >demonstrated a reversal
>         I refer to the definition of common parlance.  You yourself 
> acknowledge this definition by asserting "no one as yet as yet
> has demonstrated a reversal."

It seems to me that you are confusing "definition", "meaning" and
"usage". The law, the sciences, medicine tend to have resort to
definitions because they are fields in which precision is important; a
mathematician when he uses a term wishes to know that all other
mathematicians will appreciate *precisely* his intent. "Meanings" are
what you find set out in dictionaries and can include definitions but do
not have to do so in every case. Usages are what we find in common
parlance. This is the "Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like
a duck ..." experience. I can stroke a kangaroo, I can talk about a
kangaroo but I cannot *in common parlance* "define" a kangaroo.

Now if you take a good wide selection from the people on the street and
ask them (i) do you believe in life after death and (ii) do you believe
in the resurrection of the body through the grace of God? Then you'll
get a large number of single positives and a remarkably high proportion
of double positives. You can (rightly) turn round and say that this is
religious and not scientific, but this is "common parlance" we're
talking about. If a fair slice of the population believes that death is
reversible, then that's that. If at least the suspicion were not
widespread, why are zombie horror movies regarded as scary?

>                                 Why is that?  It's because everytime
> medicine *does* demonstrate a reversal, the physiological definition 
> of death

What is this "physiological definition of death"? Where can I find it?
Is it "that set of observations which causes a physician to issue a
death certificate"?

>            is promptly changed to retain the meaning of death
> as an irreversible state.  Death, in physiological terms, is thus
> a moving target that can *never* be reversed because society insists
> (and rightfully so) that it always be defined as something
> irreversible.  I say "rightfully so" because if death was not understood
> as something irreversible, we would need to invent some other word for
> the extremely important concept of "beyond resuscitation and gone forever."

No need for a single word. The expression "irreversibly dead" serves
quite nicely.

I have looked in my Chambers Dictionary (I cannot summon up the energy
to lift down the Oxford) and cannot find "irreversible" anywhere among
any of the meanings given. "End of life" is as near as I get and that's
a long way from irreversible.

> >> Thus the
> >> question of whether cryonics patients can be revived at some 
> >> unspecified future time is equivalent to the question of whether or
> >> not they are dead.  If they ever are revived, then they were never
> >> dead.  Period.
> >How can you possibly justify that arbitrary and overbearing statement?
>         Because of what I've written above.

Well I don't think that "death", the word, of necessity implies
"irreversible" before it and I don't think many other people do either.
If you went and asked "Do you believe death can be reversed?" you'd get
a lot of "Yesses" and a lot of "Noes" and almost no-one would say, "That
question is meaningless because one of the two available answers would
be a contradiction in terms."

> >Already in your literature and in our discussions you or your fellow
> >cryonicists use the expressions "legally dead" and "medically dead" and
> >you seek (of necessity) to distinguish between them. If I take you at
> >your word you are saying that a person once legally dead can never be
> >legally alive again whereas I know that you believe the contrary.
>         I am saying that a person who is just plain *dead* can never
> live again.  Qualifying adjectives like "legal" and "clinical" exist
> for the precise purpose of avoiding confusion with true, unqualified
> (and irreversible) death.  This is necessary because the conditions
> of legal death and clinical death often are reversible, and therefore
> do not automatically constitute true death.

We just disagree on the accepted meaning of the word and its
implications. Go out and ask the first hundred people you see on the
street, then come back and argue the point further if you're so

> >Don't get too hung up on definitions.
>         Getting language straight is important.  If more people
> understood that clinical death is not real death, maybe I wouldn't
> get so many calls from families who believe that just because 
> cryonics deals with clinically dead people it can help their
> month-long dead loved ones who are REALLY dead.

"Really" is superfluous and adds nothing to that sentence. The facts
which you relate in the paragraph indicate that the people who call you
know that their loved one is dead, but believe that death to be
reversible. I am quite clear clear (i) that your frozen corpses are
legally, clinically and common parlance "dead" and also that it is
possible that one day they may be revived.

BTW after a thunderstorm my phone was dead, but it's fine now.

John Sharman
 |  John Sharman               Internet:    |
 |                             Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1603 452142            |

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