Dying is a social as well as physiological phenomenon. Each society characterizes and, consequently, treats death and dying in its own individual ways—ways that differ markedly. These particular patterns of death and dying engender modal cultural responses, and such institutionalized behavior has familiar, economical, educational, religious, and political implications. The Handbook of Death and Dying takes stock of the vast literature in the field.
Chapter 28: The Evolution of the Legal Definition of Death
The practice of medicine was in its infancy in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago (Ghalioungui 1963), and the problems associated with defining death medically may have originated in that time, from people's witnessing various forms of death. When a person's breath and heartbeat cease, he or she often appears to be sleeping, and the ancient Egyptians referred to death as “protracted sleep.” The mythology of the early Greeks also referred to this observed relationship: Hypnos, the god of sleep, was the brother of Thanatos, ...