A medical debate over the definition of death has led to some gruesome questions about how far life can be stretched.

By: Haider Javed Warraich

Published: October 26th, 2016

Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/10/when-decapitation-doesnt-mean-death/505325/

Level of difficulty: Upper-Intermediate

Prepared by Gözde Sızan



  • What does dead mean by Scientfic American (An article and a video)




  • Prezi: Vegetative State by Leticia Mordi




  • Game of Thrones – The Execution of Eddard Stark (7mins) – for those who have not seen the first episode of Game of Thrones





  • In the first paragraph, what does “he did not make it” mean?
  • Read the example of the patient in intensive care. What was surprising about his “death”? (use your own words)
  • What does ‘this’ refer to in this phrase: It is hypothesized that this occurs because of residual medications floating around their sera…?
  • A person who experiences the Lazarus effect continue living. Is this statement true of false? Why?
  • We understand from the information provided about the Middle ages that


  1. Doctors wanted to kill people using pins
  2. Doctors doubted patients were dead
  3. Doctors wanted to guarantee the patient was dead


  • The distinction between life and death is obscure in today’s world because ________________



  1.   Read the section concerning decapitation carefully to the end. Why was decapitation seen as the guaranteed way to kill someone?
  2.  Watch the following video carefully. It will help you understand the next questions.


  • Understanding Brain Death – English by Hodsociety (7mins)



The state of the brain can be ultimately determined thanks to break throughs in modern technology/ development of modern medicine / Better trained medical personnel/ Better medical technology. Mark the odd man out.

  1. The brain stem is responsible for carrying out so-called ______________________, like breathing and blinking. The cortexes are responsible for ______________________, like thinking and talking.
  2. An individual has been in a car crash and enters a comma from which he emerges . He is able to breathe on his own but he remains unconscious. Is he “dead”? Why or why not?
  3. True or False: Vegetative functions are any of the conscious body processes needed to keep the body alive.
  4. True or False: Definition of brain death is still a controversial issue.
  5. What precaution did Doctor Barnard have to take before he performed the heart transplant? Why?
  6. What conclusion can be drawn from the experiment with the sheep?  
  7. What is implied by the phrase “ I daresay no one has ever bothered to check the pulse…”? Use your own words, then find the answer in the text)
  8. Read the section titled As I see it…..What aspect of the definition of death does the writer seem to object to?
  9. After reading the text, why do you think that the patient passes away?


Write an essay in which you discuss whether it is morally right to for doctors to let a patient in a persistent vegetative state die. Support your ideas from the provided sources above.




  • It means that the man/ the patient is dead.
  • His heart started beating after he had been declared dead
  • auto-resuscitation
  • False because whatever the cause, the patients’ resurrected heartbeats almost always fade again soon.
  • c
  • monitors can detect the faintest of activity in the heart and brain and technology can sustain bodies in which the brain, heart or lungs have failed
  • Because  decapitation…Severed the connections between the brain the heart and the lungs
  • Better trained medical personnel
  • vegetative functions / higher level functions
  • He is not dead because only when a person’s entire brain irreversibly shuts down is the person considered dead
  • false
  • true
  • He actively stopped the donor’s heart from beating using a lethal injection; to avoid any uncertainty
  • It is possible that decapitated animals are not dead for some time.
  • The victim may not be dead; decapitation can be ambiguous
  • The desire to define human life through strictly a biological lens OR A body that beats to the drum of random nerves firing which keep it breathing is now considered the essence of human life.
  • Because the patient had a brain death