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Death

life, body, sometimes, putrefaction, considered, cessation, time and change

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DEATH, in common language, a state opposed to life, and considered as the cessation of it. Strictly speaking, we can trace only the cessation of organic life. The matter of which the body is composed does not perish on the death of an organized being; it undergoes various changes, which are known by the names of decay and putrefaction, and which are the preparation for its becoming subservient to new forms of Ilfe. What becomes of the mind, or thinking principle, whether in man or animal, after death, is a matter of philosophical con jecture or religious faith. The investigations of science do not throw the least light upon it. The change here adverted to, which is called death, does not take place so quickly as is gen erally believed. It is usually preceded and caused by disease or the natural decay of old age. The state called death takes place suddenly only when the heart or the brain is injured in certain parts. Probably the brain and the heart are the parts from which, properly speaking, death proceeds; but as the cessation of their func tions is not so obvious as the cessation of the breath, which depends on them, the latter event is generally considered as indicating the mo ment when death takes place. In the organs of sense and motion the consequences of death first become apparent; the muscles become stiff ; cold ness and paleness spread over the whole body; the eye loses its brightness, the flesh its elas ticity; yet it is not perfectly safe to conclude, from these circumstances, that death has taken place in any given case, because experience shows that there may be from certain causes a state of apparent death, in which all these cir cumstances may concur without the extinction of the vital spark. The beginning of putrefac tion, in ordinary cases, affords the first certain evidence of death. Putrefaction begins in the bowels and genitals, which swell, become soft and loose, and change color ; the skin also be gins to change, and becomes red in various places; blisters show themselves; the blood be comes more fluid, and discharges itself from the mouth, nose, ears, eyes and anus. By degrees, also, the other parts are decomposed, and, last of all the teeth and bones. In the beginning of decomposition nitrogen and ammonia are Produced: in the progress of it; hydrogen, com pounded with carbon, sulphur and phosphorus, is the pevailing product, which causes an offen sive smell, and the light which is sometimes ob served about putrefying bodies. At last, only

carbonic acid gas is produced, and the putrefying body then smells like earth newly dug. A fat, greasy earth remains, and a slimy soap-like sub stance, which, mixes with the ground, and con tributes with the.preceding decompositions to the fertility of it. Even in these remains of organ ized existence organic life is not entirely ex tinct; and they contribute to produce new vegetable and animal structures. Putrefaction is much influenced by external circumstances, particularly air, heat and water. When the body is protected from the action of such agents it changes into adipocere; bat this process requires a much longer time than common putre faction. In very dry situations, the body is con verted into a mummy, in which state bodies are found in the arid deserts of Africa, and on the mountains in Peru. Some vaults are re markable for preserving corpses from putre faction. It is well known to every reader that particular substances counteract putrefaction; for instance, those used in tanning and. in em balming mummies.

The death-agony is the state which imme diately precedes death, and in which life and death are considered as struggling with each other. This state differs according to the cause producing it. Sometimes it is a complete exhaus tion; sometimes a violent struggle, and very irregular activity, which at last, after a short pause, terminates in death. In some cases con sciousness is extinguished long before death arrives; in other cases it continues during the whole period and terminates only with life. The person in this condition has already somewhat the appearance of a corpse: the face is pale and sallow, the eyes are sunken, the skin of the fore head is tense, the nose pointed and white, the ears are relaxed and the temples fallen in; a clammy sweat covers the forehead and the ex tremities, the alvine discharges and that of the urine take place involuntarily, the respiration be comes rattling, interrupted and at length ceases entirely. At this moment death is considered to take place. This state is of very variable length; sometimes continuing for minutes only, some times for days. When the patient is in this con dition nothing should be attempted but to com fort and soothe him. As long as dying per son is able to swallow, wine or other cordials may be given from time to time.

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