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Death and Dying - Defining Death In The Law

individual person medical died

The law recognizes different forms of death, not all of them meaning the end of physical life. The term civil death is used in some states to describe the circumstance of an individual who has been convicted of a serious crime or sentenced to life imprisonment. Such an individual forfeits his or her CIVIL RIGHTS, including the ability to marry, the capacity to own property, and the right to contract. Legal death is a presumption by law that a person has died. It arises following a prolonged absence, generally for a prescribed number of years, during which no one has seen or heard from the person and there is no known reason for the person's disappearance that would be incompatible with a finding that the individual is dead (e.g., the individual had not planned to move to another place). Natural death is death by action of natural causes without the aid or inducement of any intervening instrumentality. Violent death is death caused or accelerated by the application of extreme or excessive force. Brain death, a medical term first used in the late 1960s, is the cessation of all functions of the whole brain. Wrongful death is the end of life through a willful or negligent act.

In the eyes of the law, death is not a continuing event but something that takes place at a precise moment in time. The courts will not wield authority concerning a death. The determination of whether an individual has died, and the way in which this is proved by the person's vital signs, is not a legal decision but rather a medical judgment. The opinion of qualified medical personnel will be taken into consideration by judges when a controversy exists as to whether an individual is still alive or has died.

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