The Human death reference article from the Simple Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Human death

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Human death is the end of sharable human personal experience - if anything happens to us after death, we are not able to clearly communicate it. Such rituals as a seance claim to be able to speak to the dead but this is not claimed to be very reliable, even by those who do them very often.

Table of contents
1 What is our death?
2 What are the consequences of our death?
3 Killing humans and hiding it
4 Dealing with dead bodies and their property
5 Religious views of death
6 Rituals surrounding death
7 Preparing for death

What is our death?

Death occurs to every life form and it means roughly the mind, senses and body ceasing. If there is some other element to life such as soul, that could continue without a body (afterlife), move into another body (reincarnation), or simply disappear completely. Religions have different beliefs about this issue.

The medical view of the body is that it is like an animal body and in some ways like a machine. This is a powerful way to see the body because it lets it be "diagnosed" and sometimes "fixed". However this is part of a mechanistic paradigm with other effects - one of which is a refusal to admit that it may often be better to die than live. Modern healing protocols like palliative care allow for this, and for the idea of dying healed which would make no sense if one thinks of healing as only about cures.

What are the consequences of our death?

When human killing is the cause of a human death, usually relatives or friends or the state (claiming to act on their behalf or that of others who might be next) seek what can be called revenge or harms reduction by confining or killing the human killer. Likewise, when animals kill humans, they too are almost always caught and killed. It is considered a very bad thing to let animals develop a taste for human flesh, or to have the experience of killing one. They might teach cubs or kittens to hunt humans!

In any society, human death is surrounded by ritual - a wake or funeral is normal. In some societies it was common to eat the dead in a form of ritual cannibalism. But this is no longer common, in part because disease like kure can be passed this way. Human dead bodies are taboo in most societies and must be handled in special ways - for a combination of religious and hygiene reasons. A human dead body must always be reported in law, if only to be sure it is disposed of properly.

There are always some consequences or requirements for dealing with a human death.

Killing humans and hiding it

Hiding a human death is considered very bad - almost as bad as homicide itself. One of the reasons Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein are said to have committed crimes against humanity is mass graves that were found in Bosnia and Iraq, which contained many people who opposed them. Today some people continue to deny that Adolf Hitler killed millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and political opponents in his death camps during World War II - this phenomenon is called Holocaust denial.

Probably the worst cases of causing mass death in living memory are the Rwanda genocide and the Killing fields of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, each of which killed about half the people living in those countries. These were too big to hide.

Dealing with dead bodies and their property

Finding the cause of any human death and preventing a similar death from happening to someone else is one of the main reasons we investigate human morbidity or permit examination of dead bodies in an autopsy. Some religions object to autopsies as disrespectful but they are usually required by the state in case of a suspicious death that might prove homicide, abuse or disease.

To prepare for their own death, humans write a last will and testament to determine who gets their property. They may also volunteer as an organ donor which may include giving their whole body to medical research. This makes organ transplants possible and can save human lives as a person dies. Many consider this to be the ultimate purpose of death - to enable others to live, by clearing space for them, and giving of them what you can of yourself.

In this view, an organ is just another piece of property, which you no longer need for your own body. It is better to give it away, like your house or car, than to insist that it be destroyed "along with you."

Religious views of death

Ancient rulers sometimes did insist not only that their own bodies, and much property, but even their servants and relatives be destroyed at their funeral. In India this ritual still does sometimes occur. Old women sometimes carry guns in case their husband's relatives come to throw them on the funeral fire.

Christianity has a special focus on death because of the state killing of Jesus Christ by the Romans. In Islam this is thought to demonstrate the injustice of human systems of dealing out death, and the ability of the best people to overcome it and even forgive it. In Christianity itself it is thought to prove that Jesus himself was really God and so could lose his body to demonstrate something and still have power. In Buddhism every being is thought to have this power, and reincarnation will occur until the being reaches enlightenment and can escape the wheel of life to reach Nirvana. Reincarnation is an idea in Hinduism as well.

Confucianism advises filial piety and forms of ancestor worship to respect both dead and living ancesors, who created your body and taught you ethics.

Rituals surrounding death

Every ethical tradition including the medical view of the body has some ritual surrounding death. Often these excuse behaviours that might be hated if they did not have the ritual. For instance, one may say that organ transplant is like cannibalism.

Very much of what happens at a human death is ritual. People who wish theirs to be dealt with a certain way, and who wish a particular treatment like cremation of their body, should decide in advance and set up the necessary payments and agreements. This makes it much easier for their family after they die, since there is no longer the ability to clearly communicate the wish.

For the same reason, saying goodbye is important. Most of the stress of death seems to come for loved ones who "did not have a chance to say goodbye".

Perhaps it is to relieve this stress that rituals are created, and to bring together those that knew someone so that the personal experience a person can no longer communicate for themselves, can be exchanged by others.

Preparing for death

Aside from wills and goodbyes and organ donation and funerals, there is important personal experience to decide to pass on, or not, when someone knows they may soon die. Palliative care focuses on basic realizations and decisions people make when their are very close to the end of their lives, and it ensures someone is always available to talk to them. It is a replacement for heroic medical intervention that may keep them physically alive but with no quality of life. Human psychology must prepare for death if it is anything other than a quick surprise:

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote that there were several stages in dying, of which denial was the first, and acceptance was the last. Recording one's life is often something people with acceptance will do to leave a memoir or a full autobiography:

Because events leave living memory, and may only be part of oral tradition, there are projects to record everything that people remember about World War I and the Shoah. The first of these was to record everything remembered about the U.S. Civil War. This discipline has changed history since we have so many more first person accounts of the times, and made social history much more standard.