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Death is the natural state of an organism following life, when the biological processes that define life cease. In the case of most animals, including humans, this state is achieved when the breathing and blood circulation stop for a long enough period that they cannot be restored.

Many people find the thought of their own death, or that of their loved ones, to be extremely troubling. This might be one reason certain aspects of religion, such as certain burial traditions and belief in an afterlife, began in early humans in the first place.


Definitions of Death

Death is, by definition, and irreversible state. Even upon cessation of all biological functions necessary to sustain life, actual death has not occurred until those functions are unrecoverable by any means.

Clinical death is defined as the cessation of breathing and blood flow, and, by extension, of any function necessary to maintain them (basic brain function, for instance). Clinical death is distinct from actual death in that clinical death allows for possible resuscitation of those functions.

Legal death, which generally applies only to humans, usually involves the cessation of most brain function necessary to maintain consciousness and memory, plus the brain function necessary to prevent clinical death. It is distinct from clinical death and from actual death in that its purpose is to define legal responsibilities. A person determined to be legally dead is considered to be in a permanent and irreversible condition, and any legal obligations of others to maintain their life are discharged. Whether or not their condition was actually permanent and irreversible is another matter.

The definition of legal death depends on social and ethical values and on medical capability. It can change with the advent of new medical technology and procedures that are found to reverse previously irreversible states, and it can change with shifting social values. Determining a person's current state using any legal definition can raise ethical dilemmas where there are competing medical opinions, or where there is a conflict of values.


It can be hard to accept that our consciousness will finally end and won't return. That's why different religions develop different fantasies about an afterlife and imagine they will carry on being conscious somewhere else. There is no evidence for any afterlife. It's just wishful thinking and can even become a terrifying nightmare when people are taught to believe in Hell. Too often religious people make themselves and those around them miserable in this life doing things which they hope will get them a better afterlife. This life is the only life that we know exists. It's best to concentrate on making this life as good as possible for ourselves and for those around us. Seriously, being unconscious doesn't hurt.

Facing Death without Religion

So must I die, and so be laid at rest, Inanimate as though I'd ne'er had been No more entranced by joy, by care oppressed, A withered mass, uncomely to be seen. READ THE WHOLE POEM

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