Definitions of Life and death as a Basis for Bioethical Discourse

Speaker: Categories: Feb 18, 1989


[57min, 19sec / 33min, 4sec]


Have you ever considered how much simpler life used to be? Remember those by-gone years when there were no such mundane questions as: "Shall we microwave a frozen entree for dinner?" or "Who has dibs "on the computer tonight?" These quest ions exist today because of phenomenal progress in science and technology! Obviously, such problems pose no serious problem to us. Answers tend to be based on what is expedient, convenient, or satisfying. There is no threat to life; no dilemma as to "right" and "wrong."

The same progress which has created the potential for such mundane questions, as suggested above, has also confronted us with a whole new set of much more crucial questions -- ethical questions which do impinge on matters of life and death.

Dr. Provonsha has noted that at the very heart of the ethical dilemma today are the here-to-fore simple questions: "When is a person dead?" and "When is a person alive?" Bioethical issues -- abortion, fetal experimentation and the use of fetal tissues, use and discontinuance of life-support technology, donor avail ability for organ transplantation, and more -- hinge on the definitions of when is a person dead, when is a person alive.

He has further suggested that resuscitation and life-support techniques have especially confused what formerly was a fairly simple and straightforward judgment call.

"But just when is a person dead?" he challenges. "How does one know?" Or, "For that matter, at the beginning of life, when does a human being first become alive?"

"The answers to these questions," he continues, "depend on certain presuppositions. Adventist theology, based on biblical, Judeo-Christian foundations, provides the possibility of rethinking the unthinkable in matters of life and death!"

Dr. Provonsha, in the February meeting, will suggest an innovative approach to definitions of living and dying, of life and death, that society is probably not ready for -- as yet. The definitions he offers will focus attention on what he believes is really at issue in matters ranging from when life begins in utero to legal "brain death" at the end.


Dr. Jack Provonsha possesses a unique and ich background of experience -- an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister, forty years; private medical practice, thirty-one years; university professor (LLU), twenty-seven years.

His educational background includes a B.A., Pacific Union College, 1943; M.D., Loma Linda University School of Medicine, 1953; M.A., Harvard Graduate School (Christian Ethics); and Ph.D., Claremont Graduate School, (Christian Ethics), 1967.

He has served as Chairman of the Department of Christian Ethics at Loma Linda University, Director of the Center for Christian Bioethics (LLU), and Chairman of the Board, Center for Christian Bioethics (LLU).

Currently retired and living in Nordland, Washington, he continues to devote himself to full-time writing and lecturing. He received the Distinguished Faculty Service Award from Loma Linda University last year.

At his last San Diego FORUM presentation, November, 1984, he was to have discussed the very material outlined earlier. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the excitement of the "Baby Faye" incident stole the day and LLU's catapulted position in newspaper headlines necessitated our rapt attention.

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