Death panel professors discuss the definition of death, life care in Fireside Room

Maryann Kopp

Four Bakersfield College professors spoke in a panel discussion titled “The Meaning of Death & End of Life-Care” to a packed Fireside Room on April 23.
Philosophy professors David Arthur and Reggie Williams spoke on the meaning of death, while nursing professors Michael Evans and Ray Purcell spoke on end of life-care.
Arthur started out the evening with his short discussion on “defining death.”
Arthur went through how the definition of death has “changed over the last 34 years.” This discussion started back in 1852 with the invention of Bateson’s Belfry, which was a clear example of how death was defined at the time – by the Cardio Pulmonary Standard, or CPS. Simply put, the CPS stated that if you aren’t breathing and have no heartbeat, you’re dead.
With developments in technology and modern medicine, the CPS had, with time, become less prevalent, as the concept had partly stemmed from fear of “premature burial,” which happened often due to lack of training on the doctor’s behalf. Arthur also spoke on the Whole Brain Standard, which states that “you’re dead if your entire brain has ceased to function,” and the Higher Brain Standard, or “death in terms of permanent loss of consciousness.”
Reggie Williams was second to speak, and he focused on “values associated with terminally ill patients.”
Engaging the audience in a series of questions which all tied together to demonstrate a point, Williams used the issue of human vulnerability and other intangible problems to help illustrate this point.
Most patient satisfaction, according to Williams, lies heavily on the “interpersonal manner of the provider.” This can heavily impact how a patient, especially one who is terminally ill, handles their situation. This can also influence whether or not a patient has what is considered to be a “good death.” The six elements of a “good death” are: dying with a sense of contribution, having a sense of completion, having a sense of what to expect (both physically and spiritually), pain management, the patient’s ability to help make decisions, and “being affirmed as a whole person.”
Nursing professors Michael Evans and Ray Purcell both spoke on the importance of filling out Durable Power of Attorney or an Advance Directive forms with close family members, and making sure you speak with all family members “who may receive a call” about exactly what you want should you ever become stricken with an ailment or situation which may take away your ability to speak for yourself.
Legally, there are certain ways medical professionals are required to act in certain situations. One example presented by Michael Evans was that if a loved one suddenly has a heart attack or stroke and you call 911, the paramedics who arrive must, by law, do everything they can to keep the patient alive, and by calling 911, it is inferred that is exactly what is desired. All were encouraged by Purcell to set up a Palliative Care consultation to help discuss options as a patient.
The panel discussion was successful in covering issues both tangible and intangible concerning death.