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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV



Part I: The Intrusion of Death

Chapter 2


Death: Event Or Process?


But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil
thou shalt not eat of it:
for in the day thou eatest thereof
dying thou shalt die.
(Genesis 2:17)

     Because of the importance to the living of transplanted organs from the recently dead, one of the great problems today is that of establishing when death has really occurred. What is death by definition, a process or an event? By what criteria is death to be certified in any particular case especially when the living are waiting to benefit from it?
    The situation is viewed differently by the biologist, the medical man, and the legal authority. The biologist may say that the problem is so complex that a facetious answer is about the best that one can give at the present: the difference between a live body and a dead one is that a competent physicist could predict what would happen if you kick a corpse but not if you kick a live body! This is another way of saying that the living are distinguishable from the non-living chiefly because they are unpredictably reactive.
    Even the medical people have in the past adopted the same basic principle in so far as they view the absence of responsiveness or reactivity to various stimuli as the most convincing evidence of real death. This is valid up to a point, but recent resuscitative techniques have seriously challenged it.
    As a result of a legal dispute involving an inheritance, it became necessary quite recently to determine precisely which of two men,

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who had both been killed in an accident together, had actually died first. The Harvard Medical School set up an ad hoc Committee to establish a definition of death suitable for such emergencies. They published their report under the heading, "A Definition of Irreversible Coma." (36) Their basic conclusion at the time (1968) was that four criteria may be used, which are as follows:

    1. Total unresponsitivity, i.e., total unawareness of externally applied stimuli, even when painful, by vocal or other response, including groans, or withdrawal of limb, or quickening of respiration.

    2. No movement or breathing over a period of at least one hour. Artificial respiration to be cut off to see whether any attempt at breathing would be made within a period of three minutes.

   3. No reflexes: the pupil fixed, dilated, and unresponsive to a light source. Since the establishment of a fixed dilated pupil is clear-cut in clinical practice, it was felt that there should be no uncertainty in such a case.

   4. Flat encephalogram for 24 hours with no measurable change.

NOTE: in each case the assumption is made that there is no evidence of hypothermia (temperature below 90 F. or 32.2 C.) or the use of central nervous system depressants such as barbiturates.

     In the light of these criteria it is interesting to note that legal opinion was at that time committed to the definition of death as given in Black's Law Dictionary, which reads: "Death occurs precisely when life ceases and does not occur until the heart stops beating and respirations end. Death is not a continuous event but an event which takes place at a precise time." Undoubtedly, this legal position will have to be modified, for measures are now possible for the revival of the "dead" under circumstances which blur the issues in very embarrassing ways. Indeed, as Professor F. Camps said (in reviewing a book entitled The Chemistry of Death by W. E. D. Evans), "It would now appear to be possible to die several times on the basis of medical evidence." (37) The pertinence of this remark and the serious nature of the problem will be seen from the following illustrations.
     In 1962 there appeared in World-Wide Abstracts from General Medicine a report by a Dr. E. Doskaoh from India of a case of resuscitation under rather extraordinary circumstances.
(38) A young man in the northern part of that country was apparently thrown from a tractor in the middle of winter during a severe snowstorm, with only

36. Special communnication, Journal American Medical Association, vol.205, 1968, p.337.
37. Camps, F., The New Scientist, 27 Feb., 1964, p.558f.
38. Doskaoh, E. Worldwide Abstracts of General Medicine, vol.5, no.2, 1962.

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minor injuries which nevertheless brought about his collapse. He was found later in the field, manifestly dead, his whole body covered with hoarfrost and his limbs "ringing like wood when struck with a percussion hammer." A film of ice covered his wide open eyes, and no breathing, heart beat, or pulse could be detected. He was taken to a local hospital and treated with heaters, rubbed with alcohol and bathed in hot water. Heart massage and artificial respiration were started and 150 ml. of blood was injected intra-arterially, and glucose and alcohol intravenously. After forty minutes of artificial respiration, signs of spontaneous breathing became evident. Five minutes later a faint pulse could be felt.
     One hour and fifty minutes after the start of resuscitation, the man was clearly alive, although remaining unconscious for some time. Upon the return of consciousness, he was able to describe how the accident had occurred. He later developed pneumonia and showed some signs of mental disorder, from both of which he recovered. The terminal two phalanges had to be amputated from four fingers of his right hand and three of his left. No mention is made of any other operation being required. One year later the man was able to return to work.
     The Russians have had somewhat similar experiences with frozen men. V. A. Negovsky and V. I. Soboleva have reported the case of a tractor driver named Vladimir Kharin, on a farm in Tselinny Territory, who was caught in a snowstorm when his tractor stalled.
(39) For two hours he tried to get it working again until with hands numb his strength gave way. The engine refused to start and Kharin began to walk on foot back to the state farm which was some ten miles away. His last thought before losing consciousness was that he was only twenty-three, had a wife and daughter, and very much wanted to live. After he had lain in the snow for about three hours, he was found by a crew of workmen from the Yaroslavsky State Farm in the Aktyubinsk Region. He appeared to be dead, his frozen fists were tightly clenched, his still body sounded hollow and wooden upon the floor of the truck where he was laid, and his eyes, covered with a film of ice, were glassy.
     He was taken to a hospital and examination showed that both heart and respiration had stopped and his pupils did not react to light. His skin, instead of the usual corpse-like pallor, was bluish-purple in colour. It thus seemed that he might still be in a state of clinical rather than biological death. An attempt was made to save him.
     The heroic measures taken are then described. After forty minutes he began to revive, his skin became warm and his pulse could just be detected. Consciousness returned twelve hours after the patient had been admitted to the hospital and he was able to answer questions. Several months later Kharin recovered

39. Negovsky, V.A. and V.I. Sobelva, "Delaying the Process of Death", Discovery, Dec., 1964, p.20.

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sufficiently to return to his job.
     It will be noted in both these cases that most of the accepted signs of death were manifested. It will also occur to a knowledgeable reader that some brain damage might have been expected. However, the situation was such that both men were undoubtedly in a state of deep hypothermia, a circumstance which protected their central nervous systems from damage due to lack of oxygen. If we were guided by the four criteria listed in the Harvard Medical School Committee Report, we would have to say that both these men were indeed clinically and legally dead but they were clearly not biologically dead.
     A classic example of a man who "died" several times and finally recovered from the ordeal is the case of the Soviet theoretical physicist, Dr. Leo Davidovich Landau.
(40) This renowned teacher with an international reputation, on the morning of January 7, 1962, was involved in a car accident in which he was so badly injured that the medical report refers to his condition as being "simply appalling." He was rushed to a hospital in Moscow still breathing but terribly injured. Examination revealed a fractured skull, nine fractured ribs some of which had pierced the membrane enveloping the lung, the left lung had collapsed, on the right side blood had accumulated in the pleural cavity and that lung was also partially collapsed. Three pelvic bones were broken as well as the left leg, and shattered bone had perforated an unknown number of internal organs. In spite of tremendous efforts made to keep him alive, Dr. Landau died literally time after time, being again and again revived by the taking of extraordinary measures in which a team, composed of the very best brains that Europe and America could provide, co-operated. Time after time his breathing and pulse stopped and he was, to all intents and purposes, clinically dead. Yet eleven months later Dr. Landau was well enough to walk to a brief ceremony in a hospital conference room to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics.
     Until very recently, it was such instances as these that had driven specialists to conclude that the only safe criterion of real death is the total absence of any electroencephalographic signal for a period of twenty-four hours, assuming there is no evidence of severe hypothermia (from cold exposure) or the use of depressant drugs. This has been referred to more simply as "electrocerebral silence." However, even this criterion has recently been shown not to be dependable. Under the title, "Death Needs Better Definition"
(41) two cases have recently been reported from Israel which seriously challenge the usefulness of electrocerebral silence as absolute proof of death, although the report does admit that in probably 99.9% of cases it would be adequate. The first exceptional case reported is that of a fifteen year old boy

40. Dr. Leo Davidovich Landau: The Man They Wouldn't Let Die, Alexander Dorozynski, New York, Macmillan, 1965.
41 "Death Needs Better Definition", Science Journal, Feb., 1969, p.11, 13, over the signature of Hadassah Gillon.

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who fell into a deep cave while on a hike. On admission to the hospital, he was in a profound coma, a condition which technically means a total absence of reactivity to any stimuli. His pupils were widely dilated and did not respond to light. Nor did he react to painful stimuli in any way. Shortly after admission he stopped breathing and artificial respiration was begun. The electroencephalograph (EEG) reading of the electrical activity of the brain was completely flat. He therefore had fulfilled the four conditions of true death according to the Harvard Committee Study.
     Nevertheless, he was kept on artificial respiration in order to maintain a pulse and on drugs to keep the blood pressure up, although throughout this period the EEG reading was flat. The report continues: "Then his condition began to improve, spontaneous respiration was regained and the EEG changed. After a further week he was conscious, and two months after the accident the boy was physically and mentally in an excellent condition with a normal EEG." He has since been reported as being "completely recovered" and "absolutely normal."
     A second case is reported of a fourteen year old girl wounded in the head by a shell fragment during the Six Day War in Israel, although in this case the sole evidence of death was a completely flat EEG recording. This girl was still breathing spontaneously and her blood pressure was normal so that she was "alive" according to the Harvard criteria, in spite of the electrocerebral silence.
     As the report states, it becomes exceedingly difficult to define death in circumstances such as these. Had the heroic measures not been taken and sustained for an exceptionally long time in the case of the young boy, it is probable that he would never have given any signs that life still lingered in his body and therefore he would have been considered dead; and to all intents and purposes he was dead.
(42) It is the opinion of some medical authorities that an individual kept alive solely by artificial means but without consciousness is not really a "person" but is merely a "heart-lung" preparation.
     A further complicating factor which is becoming increasingly apparent is that a body does not die at the same time everywhere. Some parts of the body may die while other parts remain alive. This is the difference between necrosis, which is death of tissue, and death which commonly applies to the decease of the whole organism. It is usually the necrosis of some vital tissue which brings about the death of the whole. Experiments with animals have shown that even after the death of the whole, many tissues can be kept alive when isolated from the body. The heart of a frog can be kept beating long after the frog has died as a result of its removal. A human heart can be kept alive and will record characteristic electrocardiograph (ECG)

42. The problem of deternububg wgeb deatg gas ccyrred us oartucykarkt acyte wgeb tge dtubg ubduvdyak us a oitential donor of some organ such as a kidney, to a living individual who may be seriously in need, because such tissue deteriorates very quickly in the dead and must be removed at the earliest possible moment for transplant. Early in March, 1974, it was reported that a sixty-five year old man who had been injured in a road accident, and whom two doctors had presumed dead, began breathing again in a Birmingham hospital when an attempt was made to remove his kidneys in just such an emergency [Robert Jones, "Organ Grafting Dilemmas", New Scientist, 7 March, 1974, p.595)

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waves for sometime after its former owner has ceased to live. (43) Such a preparation was maintained by a group of surgeons at the University of Amsterdam and continued to beat on the laboratory bench for six hours, during which time hundreds of measurements were made of the electrical activity accompanying each cardiac contraction. Dr. Harold Hillman in the Department of Physiology at the University of Surrey, observed that an excised perfused kidney can go on producing urine, and even an excised udder will continue to give milk. (44)
     It is therefore quite proper to speak of three kinds of physical death: clinical, biological, and cellular. Clinical death occurs first: confirmed by cessation of pulse and breathing. Thereafter, sooner or later, there follows biological death which has been defined by Dr. A. S. Parkes as "the state from which resuscitation of the body as a whole by currently known means is impossible." (45) Thus a man is clinically dead when normal means of detecting the four signals of life produce no measurable response. But heroic measures could, in some cases, probably resuscitate some individuals who have been pronounced clinically dead. Whenever such measures fail, it may be assumed that life has indeed fled and the individual is now biologically dead. Nevertheless, he is not wholly dead, for his hair may continue to grow and a very large proportion of other tissues are capable of being kept alive by cultivation in the laboratory. (46) In fact, Professor Robert C. W. Ettinger holds that as much as 95% of body tissue is still viable, including brain tissue. (47)
     So certain is Ettinger that the body can in many cases be revived successfully after death due to some fatal disease (provided that it is protected against putrefaction by immediate freezing) that he abandoned his university career and established a company which undertakes to preserve the recently dead by freezing, with a view to making it possible that if a cure for their fatal disease should be found, they may be restored to life. They would then be provided with curative treatment in the hopes of complete recovery. The idea is not perhaps very realistic in view of the problems that will be created for any who do so recover, when they find that their world is no longer recognizable, or simply treats them as though they were still dead. But it does, however, point up the difficulties of defining in any simple way when a man really is dead in the eyes of the law.
     Finally, to revert to the third type of death, we have cellular death where even the tissues have begun to suffer general putrefaction, the final evidence of the total disorganization of life. It is apparent from all this that the legal opinion as set forth in Black's Dictionary is really no longer adequate. It is as difficult to assign a moment of cessation of person-hood during

43. "Human Heart Beats After extraction", New Scientist, 28 Oct., 1965, p.248.
44. Hillman, Harold, "When is Death?", New Scientist, 19 Mar., 1970, p.552.
45. Parkes, A. S.: quoted by R.C.W. Ettinger, The Prospects of Immortality, New York, Macfadden-Bartell, 1966, p.16.
46. See Notes at the end. of this chapter.
47. Ettinger, R.C.W., in his introduction to R.F. Nelson, We Froze the First Man, New York, Dell, 1968, p.8.

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the process of dying as it is to establish a moment of achievement of the status of personhood during foetal development.
     In scientific circles there is considerable difference of opinion as to whether death is a process or an event, as witnessed by two recent contributions (and the attendant correspondence) to Science by Professor Robert S. Morison and Dr. Leon R. Kass.
(48) Morison's view is that the simple facts of the case strongly favour the "process" concept and that to choose any particular criterion of death in order to make it an event and to favour this above other equally real evidences of continued life, is quite arbitrary. The only single decisive terminal event that could conceivably be taken as conclusive, he holds, would be when "some spirit or essence associated with life has left the body and gone to a better world". (49)
     I am not sure that Morison is serious here, but apart from the optimism implicit in the journey "to a better world," I think the departure of the spirit really is the one crucial terminal event, even as I hold that the giving of a spirit by God (Ecclesiastes 12:7) is the one crucial initiating event that converts the mere organism into a "person."
     Accordingly, I propose that the physical death of a person really involves two factors. The first is the departure of the spirit back to God who gave it (an event) which presumably would be followed at once by complete electrocerebral silence indicating the total absence of consciousness: and the second would be the progressive breakdown (a process) of all functions of the body unless artificial means are used to prevent it. Where artificial means are used and recovery of true consciousness follows (beyond mere reflex activity) I would presume that the spirit has returned. This is the kind of revival recorded on a number of occasions in the Bible, and would apply in the cases of Dr. Landau and the two Israeli children. Those who have been clinically dead can obviously recover their personal identity when they are resuscitated. Presumably such recovery is only possible because God has been pleased to return the spirit to the revitalized body, thus reconstituting the whole person again. This must surely have happened in the case of the widow of Nain's son (Luke 7:11-15) and of Lazarus (John 11), and of all others who were truly dead and yet were brought back to life by the Lord.* Indeed, Luke 8:55 tells us, in the case of a young girl brought back to life, that "her spirit came again and she immediately rose up." Moreover, in these three cases at least, there is no indication that the individual suffered any change in identity. Any brain damage that might have been done must have been miraculously repaired, or never occurred.

     It does not seem to me that merely to restore the functions of the

48. Morison, R. S., "Death: Process or Event?". and L. R. Kass, "Death as an Event: A Commentary on Robert Morison", Science, vol.175, 1971, p.694-702.
49. Morison, R. S., ibid., p.695.
* See also the two cases in the Old Testament: 2 Kings 4:18-37 and 13:20.

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organism is the undoing of "death" in the human case, unless there is a return of consciousness as evidence of the presence of the spirit once again. Even reactivity to physical stimuli is not by itself a sufficient evidence that consciousness has returned, for anencephalic children (in whom there is no brain wherein consciousness in the ordinary sense could be seated) will respond to environmental stimuli. Similarly, animals without brains can perform many functions of life such as landing on their feet when dropped in an upside down position, (50) flying and perching, (51) running on a treadmill, (52) and even raising their young . . . all entirely without "consciousness." (53) For this reason, let me repeat, I do not believe that mere restoration of bodily functions can be equated with the undoing of death in the human case.

     There is a wide measure of agreement among theologians that man is a dichotomy of spirit and body. Both constituents must be present for the organism to be a person. The "soul" or the "person" emerges as a result of the presence of a spirit which comes directly from God within a body which is derived from the parents. The body without the spirit is a mere corpse (James 2:26). When the spirit returns to the body, the person as such is reconstituted (Luke 8:55).
     This indicates that man experiences two kinds of death. One is the departure of his spirit from his body, and the other is the cessation of the electrochemical processes which in an organized way prevent the body from disintegration. The divergence of opinion on the question of whether death is an event or a process could therefore result from the fact that man has two kinds of life and therefore two kinds of death. He may die as a person and he may die as an organism. The spirit is given at some specific point in time near the beginning of existence, and taken away at some specific point in time at the end. It is therefore perfectly proper to speak of death as an event in this connection, especially since the law is primarily concerned with the rights of persons as such.
     But biologically the death of the organism, which is the chief point of interest at the present moment, is almost certainly a process, and is presented as such in Genesis. Genesis 2:7 records that Adam was warned of the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit when he was told that "in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." The original Hebrew here is interesting and literally reads "dying thou shalt die." There is some question as to the precise meaning of this phrase but it would be quite appropriate to render it "in the day thou eatest thereof, thou art a dying man." He did not die that day but he became that day a dying creature, a mortal man. Although he survived another 930 years, he was already under sentence of death. Prior to this he was not subject to natural death: he had enjoyed a

50. Decerebrate cats: Sir Charles Sherrington, Man on His Nature, Cambridge University Press, 1963, p.149f.
51. Decerebrate birds: A. J. Carlson and V. Johnson, The Machinery of the Body, University of Chicago Press, 1941, p.422; see also Walter B. Canon, The Way of an Investigator, New York, Hafner, 1968 reprint, p.121.
52. Decerebrate dogs: G. H. Bell, J. N. Davidson, and M. Scarborough, Textbook of Physiology and Biochemistry, London, Livingstone, 1954, p.860.
53/ Decerebrate cats: H. C. Bazett and E. G. Penfield, "A Study of the Sherrington Decerebrate Animal in the Chronic as Well as the Acute Condition", Brain, vol.44, 1922, p.218, 261.

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physical immortality which was contingent on his preserving it by not eating the forbidden fruit.
     He lost this privileged condition, and by disobeying a seemingly simple prohibition, introduced some mortogenic factor into his body, as Eve had also already done shortly before; and by natural generation this acquired character mortality was passed on to all his descendants, and so "death passed upon all men" (Romans 5:12). How such an acquired character could be inherited is the subject of later chapters in this work.
     Considering man merely from the biological point of view as an organism with an inherited condition of mortality that was not originally intended for him, the question arises, If this condition is passed on from generation to generation, at what point in development does the process of dying actually begin in the life of an individual? Dr. George Wakerlin in the Journal of the American Medical Association pointed out that "the various structures and functions of the human being reach their acme and begin to decline at different times in the life span." He observed:

     Aging begins with birth (or possibly with conception) in terms of growth, with birth in relation to arterial elasticity, at ten years of age in terms of acuity of hearing, at fifteen years of age in relation to antibody production and at twenty-five years in terms of neuromuscular function. Such data suggest that aging may be a multicentric phenomenon in man.

     It thus appears that in man the process of dying begins very early in life, if not from the very moment of conception. It is this implication that Kass objected to, if dying is admitted to be a process and not an event. In his words it is tantamount to saying that "dying (is) synonymous with living." (55) Maybe it is, for man! Indeed, Sir Peter Medawar shows that we are actually dying in some cells of the body more rapidly when we are young than when we are old. As he put it, "We are all moving towards our graves, but none so fast as they who have farthest to go." (56) Some years ago, the German evangelical scholar, Erich Sauer, wrote: (57)

    At the moment of the (fall), spiritual death entered and with it also, under divine judgment, freedom from bodily death was forfeited. . . .
    Forthwith "life" is merely a gradual dying and birth is the beginning of death.

     It is remarkable how the Scriptures can direct a man's thinking along the right paths even when those paths are outside his normal range of competence. I suspect that in the light of today's knowledge, Sauer might even have said "conception is the beginning of

54. Wakerin, George E., "The Biology of Aging", editorial, Journal of the American Medical Association, 16 Mar., 1957, p.950.
55. Kass, Leon, "Death as an event: A Commentary on Robert Morison", Science, vol.173, 1971, p.698.
56. Medawar, Sir Peter, The Uniqueness of the Individual, New York, Basic Books, 1957, p.57.
57. Sauer, Erich, The Dawn of World Redemption, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1953, p.56.

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death"; for it is at the time of conception that the immortality of the seed or more precisely, of the body which is to house it begins to be surrendered. So that Psalm 51:5 is perhaps more literally true than we have customarily allowed: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." This is not because the act of procreation is sinful in itself but because it marks the point of entry into the stream of human life (as it is conveyed from germ plasm to germ plasm) of that particular form of poison which was introduced from the forbidden fruit and which in Romans 5:12 is termed SIN and to which is attributed the entrance of death. Thus mortality is passed on by inheritance from generation to generation, and if we are permitted to take this passage literally, it is passed on through the male seed, "by man," and not through the seed of the woman. Treatment of this point will be undertaken in Chapter 5 of Part II.

    In all this discussion, I think it is also important in the interests of precision in the use of terminology to recognize the difference between aging and senescence. We age the moment we begin the process of living, since each day makes us one day older. In itself, aging means no more than adding years to our past, and hopefully it can be equated with the concept of maturing. The rose in full bloom is older (more aged, in this sense) than the bud which it formerly was, both bud and bloom being perfect at each stage. Senescence and senility have a sadder note to them, for they imply some measure of declining vitality and of decay both mental and physical. But when reading the scientific literature, it is well to determine what the writer means when he speaks of ageing, for he may not be intending senescence. I think both Wakerlin and Medawar wished to convey something of senescence and death in their use of the word ageing. Of course, to grow at all is to grow older and therefore to age, but to grow older, as the amoeba or paramecium does, in no way involves them in senescence provided that they divide once they have reached a certain size. The process of division renews their vitality entirely and they escape death altogether. Professor Bradley T. Scheer makes this observation regarding senescence: (58)

     The problem of aging may be segregated under two headings senescence and death. It is ordinarily considered that the two are related and that death is a consequence of senescence. This has not been proved, however, and there are all about us instances of senile individuals who do not die and dead individuals who never became senile.

     The point he makes is a useful one and certainly true. Nor can age be linked with senescence in chronological terms, for there is a disease of tragic nature in which the expected life span of the

58. Scheer, Bradley T., General Physiology, New York, Wiley, 1953, p.428.

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individual is compressed, during which time the subject passes rapidly through childhood, adolescence, manhood, senility and death: and all within the space of a few years. The disease is known as progeria.
     Progeria is a peculiarly sad disease for those who are afflicted with it, for they see their lives racing by while their contemporaries slowly mature with what must appear to them "all the time in the world" to enjoy life. It seems to me that we would all feel this if we found ourselves living alongside of Adam or Methuselah. It is not known what causes the disease but it is perhaps worth remembering that we might not recognize it as a disease at all if it equally afflicted all of us. The fact is that, for all we know, we who live only three score years and ten may be suffering a form of progeria relative to the biblical patriarchs whose lives spanned ten times as many years and who evidently matured with corresponding slowness, since the time from birth to maturity was even then about one-sixth of the expected life span,
(59) as it still is today both for man and many creatures below him. Adam, for example, died at the age of 930 years, but did not give birth to his first son till he was 130 years of age (Genesis 5:3-5).
      In order to give some force to what is implied above, it may be useful to illustrate what happens to those who suffer from progeria at the present time. In 1962 an eleven year old boy in California died of "old age,"
(60) resembling a wizened old man, his skin rough and wrinkled, only a few hairs on his head, the veins of his scalp protruding. His teeth had "long since" been replaced by false teeth, his voice was high and feeble and he was afflicted with arteriosclerosis. He had already suffered two heart attacks. Yet the first eighteen months of his life had been quite normal and he had been a bright and cheerful child. A photograph of him taken when he was seven years old fills one with sadness. And there are 52 known cases at the present moment.
     In 1967 there was a report from New Brunswick (Canada) of an eleven year old child who had already aged to the condition of a ninety-five year old.
(61) And this unhappy boy's sister, who was then two years younger than himself, was equally afflicted and already showed all the characteristics of an eighty year old woman at the time.
     In 1970 the San Francisco Chronicle
(62) reported the case of a young girl of fourteen who had died suddenly and quite unexpectedly, and whose autopsy showed that she had actually succumbed to arteriosclerosis such as would normally be found in a seventy-five year old woman.
     Recently there was reported a case from San Diego of a "little old lady," Penny Vantine, who at only five years of age was already an old woman (Toronto Star, 9 July, 1979). Weighing barely nine pounds

59. Total life span versus birth-to-maturity ratio = six to on: see Paul A. Zahl, "Need There be Death?", a contribution in a report published by the New York Joint Legislative Committee on "Problems of the Aging", 1950, p.134; and see Fritz Kahn, Man in Structure and Function, New York, Knopf, 1960, vol.1, p.57. Maturity is marked by birth of the first-born.
60. Progeria: see William Reichel, Rafael Garcia-Bunuel and Joseph Dilallo, "Progeria and Werner's Syndrome as Models for the Study of Normal Human Aging", Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, vol.19, no.5, 1971, p.369-375. See also A. L. Rosenbloom and Franklin L. DeBusk, "Progeria of Hutchinson-Gifford: A Caricature of Aging", American Heart Journal, vol.82, no.3, 1971, p.287-9; and A. Schaman Danes, "Progeria: a Cell Culture study on Aging", Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol.50, 1971, p.2000-3. For a popular account, see S. Katz, "Old Ag at Eleven", MacLean's Magazine, 11 Aug., 1962, p.12f., photograph p.40.
61. Progeria: reported in the Toronto Evening Telegram, 9 Mar., 1967, p.9, under the heading, "MDs probe death of body 'aged 95'."
62. Reported in San Francisco Chronicle, 17 Junbe, 1970, p.4

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and only twenty-nine inches in height, her appearance and constitution was already that of an eighty year old. It was reported by her doctors that she was aging at the rate of fifteen to twenty years every twelve months.
     Imagine what this unfortunate child must think as she looks up at the nurse holding her, "This person is already forty, or eight times as old as I am . . ." Were I to experience such a thought, being now seventy, what would my feelings of awe be to think of my nurse as already 560 years old and obviously still quite young! There really is no way in which we can know whether we, too, in our apparent normal state of being, are not afflicted with progeria or some such disease as Cockayne's Syndrome which afflicts little Penny Vantine.
     It is well to ponder what this signifies. We have no way of knowing whether we might not in fact be living all of us at a tremendously accelerated rate relative to what men lived in pre-Flood times. Their rate of living, slow as it might seem today, may actually have been much more nearly what was intended as normal for the whole human race. But the rate of living of Adam and Eve before the Fall may have been even more leisurely. Even after the Fall, Adam's "childhood" still lasted around a hundred years; our childhood lasts perhaps fifteen; these four sad victims of progeria had a childhood of little more than a year.
     Consider for a moment what the consequences would be if at some time in the future the normal life span of man was reduced to ten or twelve years, as though the world had become a progeriac world. There would be no Michelangelo to paint a Sistine Chapel, for no man would live long enough to complete the task. And perhaps there would be no one even to build a Sistine Chapel because, if the only people alive were little people with the stature and strength of an eight or ten year old, no one would have sufficient energy to erect anything more than small structures involving comparatively light materials. It is conceivable that some compensation would result from the development of refined machines representing a kind of building automation, but it is difficult to see how the fan tracery of a Gothic cathedral ceiling, for example, could be handled mechanically. The human hand has a dexterity that is not likely to be replaced by machinery where art is concerned. The time available, the energy required, and the necessary experience of life would all be drastically curtailed in a progeriac world.
     There is one other factor of great significance in this shortened life span experience. It takes a certain amount of time to accumulate knowledge whether by reading or by visual means. It is true that speed reading might compensate a little but surely not sufficiently to allow an educational process which would be limited to a period  

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between the ages of, say, seven and ten to compensate for a formal educational process that may today well occupy the period from seven years of age to twenty-seven in the pursuit of some higher degrees. The accomplishments of today would surely be severely curtailed.
     However, consider the converse course of events. Suppose that we lived in pre-Flood days and had ten times the number of years that we now have in which to accumulate knowledge and skill by study and experience. How rapidly would civilization develop! If we look upon a progeriac world as a world of little people when compared with our own adult world, would we not be required to look upon a super-super-centenarian world as a world of very much "larger" people compared with ourselves, indeed a world of giants? Maybe there were "giants in the earth in those days" (Genesis 6:4) for this very reason. In short, it would be a very different world, but not an abnormal one. It is our world that is abnormal by their standards, just as a progeriac world would be abnormal by ours.
     There really is nothing impossible in this hypothetical situation. We are merely judging the old world by the wrong standards; and the progeriac world looking back upon ours might smile at any idea that there were "giants in the earth" in our day except that they might look upon our buildings and wonder at the size of things as we in fact wonder today at the enormity of some of the structures of antiquity.
     Certainly there is nothing unreasonable about these very ancient records of unusual longevity in the early chapters of Genesis. They have not been taken seriously enough, either by those in the Life Sciences (which is a pity) nor even by Christians (which is a tragedy). From these records we may learn a great deal about the potential life span of man, as well as about the origin of death as it relates specifically to man by contrast with other species.

     As we have already noted, death for man comes as a tragedy, a violent rending asunder of his being in a way that does not seem equally true in the animal world. It all began with an event which theologians associate with original sin. By an act of disobedience Adam introduced to all his descendants an inheritable disease in the form of a transmissible agent of death both biological and spiritual. Its biological effects can be explored as one would explore the effects of any other genetically determined pathological condition. The very concept of an acquired mortogenic factor which can be passed on by inheritance has particular significance for the geneticist. And the fact that Adam and Eve acquired mortality which was then inherited by their descendants is just such a case, as Sir Gavin de Beer was astute enough to recognize. (63) Yet, to my knowledge, no Christian writer with a background in genetics seems to have recognized its implications.

63. de Beer, Sir Gavin, reviewing Theodsius Dobzhansky, Mankind So Far: The evolution of the Human Species, in Scientific American, Sept., 1962, p.268.

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     So I propose to examine the evidence that men did indeed live to such extraordinary ages, that these ancient records are indeed sober history, and that the very figures given to us can be usefully analyzed to show us a pattern of decline that strikingly accords with what we now know from genetics about the effect over successive generations wherever an inheritable disease is involved.
     Death has been imposed upon man as a penalty. At first its effects were delayed, but after the Flood those effects were greatly accelerated for reasons now understood in part. Today we die at an age which to them would have seemed comparable to the death of a mere infant. While we may expect to live for three score and ten, they did not even reach the child-bearing stage till they were one hundred and thirty years old or thereabouts!
     This death of which we speak involves the separation of two components, and takes place when the spirit leaves the body irretrievably. The departure of the spirit is best described as an event. The dissolution of the body is best described as a process. Death is therefore both event and process.

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46. (see page 6) G.M. Gould and W. L. Pyle in their book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine [New York, Julian Press, 1966] observed concerning this phenomenon: "The hair and beard may grow after death, and even change colour. Bartholinus recalls a case of a man who had short black hair and beard at the time of internment but who, some time after death, was found to possess long and yellowish hair. Aristotle discusses post mortem growth of the hair, and Garmanus cites an instance in which the beard and hair was cut several times from the cadaver. We occasionally see evidences of this in the dissecting rooms. Caldwell mentions a body buried four years, the hair from which protruded at the points where the joint of the coffin had given way. The hair of the head measured eighteen inches, that of the beard eight inches, and that on the breast from four to six inches. Rosse of Washington mentions an instance in which after burial the hair turned from dark brown to red, and also cites a case in a Washington cemetery of a girl, twelve or thirteen years old, who when exhumed was found to have a new growth of hair all over her body. Nails sometimes grow several inches after death, and there is on record the account of an idiot who had an idiosyncrasy for long nails, and after death the nails were found to have grown to such an extent that they curled up under the palms and soles" (p.523).

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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