By Christopher Belshaw
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Extra info for Annihilation: The Sense and Significance of Death
We might agree that a criterion is successful only if adopted. But if most people adopt a criterion, is its success assured? They will believe it successful, but surely they could be wrong. There were widely adopted criteria for witches, but as there never were any witches it is hard to see how these criteria were ever successful. Or imagine a disease, well known and rightly feared. People associate certain symptoms with the disease, taking these as sure signs that infection has occurred. 4 I have more to say about analysis.
Some, but not all, the dead have been decapitated. If someone has been decapitated, doctors can certainly cease their endeavours. 3 So as well as a single criterion there might be multiple criteria. A second point to note here is that Feldman seems to be assuming that death comes at a precise instant, rather than gradually, over a period. I have discussed this above, and I shall return to it below. On (2), Feldman is right to make the point that a criterion might be less than general. Signs of death in a human being will be different from those in trees.
Someone was dead when and only when their heart and lungs were unable to function. Towards the middle of the twentieth century the development of various resuscitation and ventilation techniques, along with progress in transplant surgery, led to the undermining of this established criterion. It became possible to sustain various functions of the body for extended periods even while the heart and lungs were inoperative. In some cases, as with a successful heart transplant, all of the functions could later be restored, and the patient returned to full health.