Stages of Life and Death Defined

The need for Definitions

When discussing such an emotionally charged, misunderstood and often mystically viewed subject as life and death, in order to have any rational discussion, it is particularly important that the meanings of all words used be clearly understood. In this regard, I think it is past time that "alive" and "dead" cease to be regarded as antonyms - ie. that "not alive" does not necessarily mean "dead". This is particularly true since life is not one thing, but a whole set of attributes each of which are distinct and important for quite independent reasons and evaluated quite differently by different people. Therefore, in order that people can converse coherently, the terminology of life/death discussion needs to be revised along similar lines to what I propose in this short article.

Definitions of Life and Death

  1. Life Attribute(s) -
    1. manifesting growth, development and maintenance through metabolism,
    2. having a means of reproduction, and
    3. manifesting internal regulation and outward action in response to the environment.
    Note: I am considering "c" in its broadest meaning which includes all thoughts, emotions, choices and actions.
    Also note that all defined words are capitalized and remain so, in order to separate them from the vernacular words with the same spellings.
  2. Lifeform - any conglomerate of matter and energy which has these Life Attributes. Note that I am ignoring those organisms that are on the edge of life and do not have all three Life Attributes. However, I include as Lifeforms those individual organisms that do not have the capacity for reproduction (such as worker ants or humans who are sterile for one reason or another) so long as some members of their species do have a means of reproduction - of course cloning will effectively restore this Life Attribute by giving everyone the capacity for reproduction.
  3. The following definitions will refer only to humans, because they are my chief interest here. However, if all other Lifeforms are assumed to be incapable of wanting to not fully express all of their Life Attributes, then the definitions will also apply to them.
    Note: Examples are given after the definitions are complete. These examples are specifically not given right with the definition in order to enable the reader to have a chance to think of his/her (hir) own examples illustrating the definition. Furthermore, the reader is urged to do so before reading the examples given, since this may enable hir to both find novel examples and, potentially, even find examples for which the definitions are not complete (since I do not assume that they are the last word).

  4. Alive, Living - the state of a human when s/he is expressing all hir Life Attributes that s/he wishes to express and is attempting to optimally increase hir Lifetime Happiness.
  5. Life Reduced - the state of a human when s/he wants to, but is not expressing one or more of hir Life Attributes to the fullest extent which hir individually unique nature allows.
  6. Life Impaired - the state of a human when s/he wants to, but does not have the capacity to express one or more of hir Life Attributes to the fullest extent which hir individually unique nature allows.
  7. Life Incapacitated - the state of a human when s/he does not have the capacity of internal regulation (including homeostasis) and such capacity does not return to hir spontaneously.
  8. Life Terminal - the state of a human when s/he does not have the capacity of internal regulation, such capacity does not return to hir spontaneously, and all attempts to restore such capacity or even to maintain externally regulated homeostasis have failed. (Many of those associated with Cryonics call this state "deanimated".)
  9. Dead - The state of a human when s/he does not have the capacity to express any of hir Life Attributes and cannot be repaired or augmented to have such capacity by any procedure to which s/he can be transported in space or time.
  10. Death, Dying - The events of transition from Life Terminal to Dead.
  11. Human Remains - The tissue of a Life Terminal or Dead human.
  12. Patient - Any human in states 4 to 7 who is under the care and/or guidance of one or more other humans.
  13. Legally Dead - The state of a Life Terminal human after one or more government authorized officials have declared hir to be in that state. Note: since this state is merely a government created fiction, it is not necessarily related to a human's physiological condition - ie not related to anything real.
  14. Life Extension - any method by which a Lifeform is enabled to be Alive for a longer period of time than would have been the case if such method had not been applied.
  15. Stasis - The state of a Lifeform such that, if it remained in that state for a period of hundreds of years, changes to all its biological parameters would be insignificant with respect to its capacity to become Alive.

Examples which Illustrate the Definitions

Each of states 4 to 7 is a subcategory of state 3 in which there is only a partial achievement of Life Attributes. These different states are also subcategories of one another in the sense that all states of 7 are within 6 which are within 5 which are within 4 which are within 3. Here are some examples to illustrate.

Cryopreservation, Cryonics and Suspended Animation

Cryopreservation - Any procedure involving cooling by which a biological specimen is caused to exist in the future with an insignificant amount of change to some biological parameter(s).
Total Cryopreservation - Any procedure involving cooling by which a biological specimen is placed in Stasis.
Life Cryopreservation - Any procedure involving cooling by which a Lifeform is placed in Stasis and is later caused to be Alive, with an insignificant amount of change to all of its Life Attributes.

Cryonics - The Total Cryopreservation of Life Terminal humans or companion animals for the purpose of preventing their Death and with the hope that they will be able to have a merely Life Reduced state at sometime in the future. During the procedure of Total Cryopreservation, humans remain Patients since it is not yet known whether Death has occurred.
Although some Legally Dead humans are likely biologically Dead (impossible to tell for sure), some are only Life Terminal and Cryonics Cryopreserves them to prevent Death. However, since it is not clear precisely when Death occurs, unless instructed not to in advance by the Patient, Cryonics organizations take the precautionary approach of Cryopreserving the Human Remains in case Death has not yet occurred. Most Cryonicists would like to see the definition changed so that "Life Terminal" is replaced by "Life Incapacitated". Some Cryonicists want Life Cryopreservation (and even Cryonics) to become a elective option for people who are only Life Impaired. The obstacles to such changes are entirely legal under the current political forms of societies which exist on Earth. However, whatever its legal status, the major obstacle to the acceptance of Cryonics by people is the fact that neither Life Cryopreservation nor Total Cryopreservation have yet to be achieved for any Lifeform or complex tissue sample of size comparable to that of a whole mammal. What is currently used for Cryonics purposes is merely Cryopreservation.

Suspended Animation - Any procedure that enables a Lifeform to exist in its current state of life, after a time at least as great as the maximum human lifespan. Currently, the only way this is can be conceived of being accomplished is to:

  1. cause the Lifeform to become Life Incapacitated,
  2. place the Lifeform is a state where biological change is insignificant, and
  3. restore the Lifeform to the state of being Alive.

In order to accomplish Suspended Animation, any such procedure will logically require that all information within the Lifeform defining its life state is retained in some manner (either internal or external to the Lifeform) so that it can be fully recovered during the process of restoration of the Lifeform. Currently, Life Cryopreservation appears to be the procedure with the best chance to become Suspended Animation. However, as more progress is made in the modern technologies relating to computers and neuroscience, this may change.

Finally note that it is highly misleading to refer to Cryonics or Suspended Animation as methods of Life Extension, since neither enable a human to be Alive for any longer period of time than would have been the case without these procedures (and possibly for a shorter period, because of the risk involved by being in a totally Life Incapacitated state) unless some actual Life Extension therapy is applied after or concurrent with the restoration of the Patient from Stasis.

Go to Preserving Entry Page

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Initially posted 8/30/04

Page last updated 9/9/07
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