It may seem surprising, but there are, indeed, different types of death, according to biological, clinical, and legal perspectives. And while death is inevitable for all living creatures, the final moments for human beings take many forms and can be defined and described in various ways. So, let’s look at some of the different types of death:
Cellular death happens all the time in humans who remain very much alive. In most cases, in the natural cellular life cycle, dead cells are replaced by new living cells. This natural cell replacement is known as necrobiosis. For example, “dead skin” is replaced by new skin cells that remain living and viable for about two to three weeks. In contrast, according to Live Science, “white blood cells live on average more than a year” while colon cells live only about four days and sperm cells only about three.
Another form of cellular death is necrosis. This is when a group of cells die but are not replaced. Necrosis may have many different causes, including poor blood supply, the influence of microorganisms, trauma, radiation, or chemical agents. Certain medicines, especially when improperly introduced into the body, can cause necrosis. In severe forms, necrosis can lead to somatic death.
Somatic death is the cellular death of the entire organism. In other words, it is the total physical death of the living being.
Live Science reports that “brain cells typically last an entire lifetime” and that “neurons in the cerebral cortex, for example, are not replaced when they die.” Actual brain death is typically pronounced after all brain activity has irreversibly ceased for an extended period. Even when brain death is determined, however, it is often still possible to maintain cellular life in the body. This is often done so donated organs can be harvested.
Typically, regardless of brain activity, the absence of heart and lung function may be considered clinical death. However, it should be noted that in many cases, these functions, and life itself, can be restored after the onset of clinical death. During clinical death, cell function declines or stops; and after a point, total physical death becomes inevitable. Clinical death may also be considered legal death when restorative efforts, if attempted, are not successful.
When death occurs without obvious external factors such as an accident, injury, poisoning, suicide or murder, it is typically considered to have been a natural death, or death by natural causes. This can happen at any age. There may be a medically-determined cause of death, but the death can still be considered natural.
A death that occurs unexpectedly is often referred to as a sudden death or untimely death. Sometimes, preventable causes may have been present but undetected prior to the death. A sudden death can be caused by physiological or external factors.
At Stillinger Family Funeral Home, we serve families and neighbors who have experienced the death of a loved one. We encounter many different types of death, and provide body preparation and funeral services for individuals who have passed away due to a wide variety of causes. Regardless of how the person died, however, we take great care to honor how the person lived and how they were loved by family and friends. To learn more about how we tailor personal services in tribute to the life of the deceased, contact us at 317.462.5536.