Definitions of Types of Death
In a practical sense, however, the exact moment at which a person is “dead” is an argument over a very fine point indeed. The fact remains that humans do die. Death does eventually occur at some point. But there are many types of death, and it’s good to know some definitions.
Necrobiosis. Individual cells die all the time. The cells in your body today weren’t there years ago, except your nerve cells. Necrobiosis is the death of cells over the lifespan of an organism. After necrobiosis, a cell is replaced with a new one in a continual process throughout a human’s life.
Necrosis. When many cells die at once, it isn’t the normal continual necrobiosis of life. Necrosis is the death of an organ or part of an organ. In medicine this is called infarction (yes, that’s how it’s supposed to be spelled.)
Clinical Death. No breathing, no circulation, and no brain activity characterize clinical death. But that’s only half. The other side, the most integral part which separates clinical death from somatic death, is that clinical death begins at the very onset of the symptoms of death, say right after cardiac arrest has cause the heart to stop. It lasts for about four minutes, and it is the interval in which life can be brought back through CPR. After a short few minutes, death is permanent, because the state of the body has gone from clinical death to…
Brain Death. A brain deprived of oxygen survives for 3 to 7 minutes, making it the first organ to die when circulation or respiration ceases or is impeded, whatever the cause of trouble may be. After a few minutes, the brain can’t be brought back to life by any means available today. This is brain death, and it’s the reason why clinical death, the period in which a person can be resuscitated, is so short. Once the brain goes, the heart doesn’t know how to pump and the lungs don’t know how to breath.
Somatic death. Eventually an organism ceases to be in the process of dying and proceeds to be dead. Somatic death is the death— the permanent, irreversible death— of an organism as a whole. In humans it is usually after brain death, as the other vital organs are unable to function without the brain. With modern technology, though, one can be brain dead but still have circulation and respiration artificially. In such a case one isn’t somatically dead because other organs are still alive. Once artificial support is removed somatic death occurs, because the person is then entirely and completely inactive with regard to brain, circulation, and respiration.