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Science Matters

Defining Life and Death

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Through advances in medical science, we have the technical capability to sustain life in states of sickness for an indefinite period of time. At the same time we have no general agreement, as a society, about whether it is appropriate to keep people alive in a near-death state of illness or in a state so highly impaired that the patient cannot ever again interact with others. The legal drama concerning Terri Schiavo did not resolve this question, but brought several issues into sharper focus:  What is the state of medical science and practice in today's hospitals? What is the role of patients, family and physicians in end of life issues?

This forum addressed these fundamental life and death questions as well as offered different expert opinions on the ethical issues that arise in our path from life to death. How can we better define proper end of life transitions - for ourselves, for critically ill loved ones, for others? 


  • Geoffrey CowanDean, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California—serves as moderator for the panel discussion.
  • Reverend Cecil L. “Chip” MurrayTanzy Chair of Christian Ethics, Senior Fellow at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California and Pastor emeritus, First African Methodist Episcopal Church—discusses the moral issues and ethical implications of end of life care from a religious perspective, focusing on the sanctity of life in all its forms.
  • Shirley Otis-Green—Senior Research Specialist, Nursing Research and Education Department, City of Hope National Medical Center .
  • Dr. Neil S. WengerProfessor, General Internal Medicine, UCLA Department of Medicine and Chair, UCLA Medical Center Ethics Committee—discusses what happens to patients sustained in gravely ill states, and the medical decisions that need to be addressed at various stages of decline.
  • Dr. Jay WolfsonProfessor of Public Health and Medicine, and Associate Vice President of Health Law, Policy and Safety, University of South Florida; Professor of Law Health, Stetson University College of Law; and Professor of Medicine, Florida State University—discusses the legal options and ethical issues related to end of life care. In 2003 a Florida court appointed him to be Terri Schiavo's special guardian ad litem reporting to the Governor and the courts on the neurological capacities disputed by Ms. Schiavo's husband and her parents.

Click here to download Shirley Otis-Green's PowerPoint presentation (2.8 MB).

Art & Science Program

Art & Science Seminar :

In conjunction with the panel presentation, a more intimate round-table seminar explored the definition of life through Plato's Phaedo, a moving account of Socrates' final conversations about the meaning of life and death with friends, on the day of his execution. Phaedo remains one of Plato's most enduring dialogues, through which we can reflect on our own beliefs about life, death and the human soul.

For more information on the Art & Science program, and an opportunity to participate in our Online Journal discussion, please visit www.ArtAndScienceStudio.org.

A Special Exhibit:

A special exhibit developed by the Dallas Museum of Art entitled After Life complemented the panel discussion and seminar by exploring perceptions of death and dying among diverse world cultures through art. The exhibit will be featured at the Science Center from January 21 through April, 2006

Resources for Further Reading


Home | Stem Cell Research | Defining Life and Death | Reproductive Cloning

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