What is a “life”

Lots of folks talk about “life”, but the definition of a “life” is hard to come by…

Is it the same as “personhood” — which implies a whole host of abilities and moral duties?  Is it biological life, and if so then is it respiration, heart beat, brain activity or cell activity?

Today I heard this story on NPR… Finding Emilie

It’s the story of a woman who was an artist living in Manhattan.  She was hit by a truck while riding her bike.  The doctors thought she was brain dead when she didn’t respond to being taken off of the medication that had her in a medically induced coma.  While her family was discussing when to remove life support, organ donation and funeral arrangements, she moved her hand.  For quite a while she seemed as if she was very brain damaged.  She wouldn’t respond to commands, she punched, kicked and hit people who would try to put in her hearing aids (she’d been nearly deaf most of her life) and the doctors concluded that brain damage had ended her ability to see.

Emilie’s boyfriend saw a TV program about Hellen Keller and he got the idea to trace letters into Emilie’s palm.  She responded immediately.  So, the girl they thought was dead — who was lying in a hospital bed with her intestines outside her body so she could have room to breathe, was responding to stimulus.  Her boyfriend asked her if she wanted her hearing aids — she said yes and he put them in.  When he said his name in her ear, hearing her voice brought her back to her life…

Today she’s in rehabilitation, learning to live on her own and figuring out how to do the art she loves.

This leaves the question, when is a person’s “life” over?


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