Physiological Death

Cover image by truthseeker08

Physiological death is simply defined as the complete cessation of all vital organs. This differs from the broader definition of death which is typically recognised when respiration and cardigan functions cease.

At death, the pupils become fixed and dilated, and the skin on the face and extremities becomes cool to the touch. The time of death should be noted and documented, and the attending doctor or medical officer informed.

Physiological death is not as clear-cut as the conventional definition of death as many physiological processes of the body can continue after cessation of respiratory, cardiac and brain functions. It is therefore debated whether a person is actually dead when brain function has ceased, but life support maintains the body’s vital functions. Some believe the absence of brain activity is conclusive evidence of death, with the body’s “machinery” simply continuing as normal, but with nobody at the wheel. Others argue that a person cannot be considered dead until all physiological functions of the body cease – physiological death.

There are many factors that influence an individuals concept of death, including cultural background, spiritual beliefs, psychosocial standing and even personal philosophies and perceptions. The nurse must always be mindful of this, and their own perceptions of death when supporting the dying person and family.


Physiological death is simply the cessation of all metabolic and physiological processes of the body, not just brain, cardiac and respiratory functions

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