Are we cremating people alive?
Why do I ask such a question? It's because I realize when people die at home, physicians come to the house to pronounce death. However, physicians are fallible humans who are prone to mistakes. And when a mistake is made while pronouncing death, the end result can be agonizing live cremation or premature burial. I believe that as an ethical society, we have the moral duty to prevent this.
You might think that there are many steps that happen in between being pronounced dead and actually being cremated and/or buried. You are right. There are two things that I know of that happen in between that might prevent a person from the horrific fate of live cremation/premature burial, and these are 1. embalming; and 2. death from being placed in a morgue fridge for an extended period of time. Let's analyse each one separately.
Embalming entails the injection of harsh chemicals into the supposed corpse and sanitizing it. What this does is it ensures the person will be dead, assuming he/she was still alive upon arrival. However, embalming is not required by law. That means people can easily opt out of it. There are also some cultures who do not believe in embalming. And it is because of these reasons, a person erroneously pronounced dead will continue to be alive and be subsequently subjected to the horrific fate of live cremation/premature burial.
The other thing that can prevent premature burial/live cremation from happening is death from being placed in a morgue fridge for an extended period of time. Normally the morgue fridge is kept at 2 to 4 degree Celsius for the positive temperature ones. Even after being in the fridge for a few days people can still return to life and/or even fully awaken upon being taken out for burial/cremation purpose This is possible because there have been reports of people trapped in ice for a few days with no clothes on, who survived. So it is possible for someone to be in a morgue fridge for a few days and still not die.
Now you might say, the chances of someone being misdiagnosed dead, and to not go through embalming, and further to regain full consciousness after being placed in a morgue fridge are exceedingly small. Probably on the order of 0.000001% (now this is just a random number I pulled out. The actual number might be higher). This I agree with you. However, in Canada, we have a population of close to 30 million people. When you multiply this huge number by a small percentage, you still end up getting a positive integer. And this number is the number of people who will be buried/cremated alive.
So what do I propose that we do? We need to make sure that the dead are truly dead. And I propose a law whereby a corpse can only be buried or cremated after it has exhibited signs of decomposition. As it stands now, all the signs by which we diagnose death are not totally fool-proof. Cessation of breathing and heartbeat is reversible in some cases. They can be resumed. Brain waves measured by EEG machines can flicker on and off in the cases of near death experiences. Bodies experience a lower temperature in certain medical conditions such as diabetic coma. Same thing with stiffness of limbs. Only decomposition is a sure-fire way of determining death, due to its irreversible nature. Presence of signs of decomposition allows people to determine death accurately, while current methods sometimes fail.
Remember, misdiagnosis of death can happen to anyone, including you and your loved ones. And if it happens, it can very well lead to premature burial/live cremation, both of which are agonizing. I believe it is prudent to think ahead and to try and prevent such fates from befalling you or your loved ones. Please do not dismiss this piece of advice just because you regard the chance of live cremation/premature burial happening as very small. We could very well be under a false sense of security, thinking that premature burial/live cremation doesn't happen. This is due to the fact these things are highly under-reported. Imagine. When someone is cremated alive, how will you know? Cremation leaves no evidence. So you simply don't know that it happened. What about when someone is buried alive? There might be scratch marks on the inside of the casket, however we would need to be digging up graves and opening caskets in order to find out. And I don't think we are doing this on a large scale in Canada. And it is because of these reasons, I say that we are oblivious to what might really be happening out there to people who we think are dead. As frightening a thought as it is, we might actually be cremating/burying people alive without realizing it.
A word on physicians misdiagnosing death. This might actually be happening at a rate that is higher than we think, too. If you look at physicians' general rate of misdiagnosis, an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of cases are misdiagnosed, according to national centre for policy analysis. 10 to 20 percent is quite a high number. Now if you extrapolate that to the case of death diagnosis, you can see why I think the misdiagnosis of death could very well be more frequent than we think.
Now I don't know about you, but for me personally, I definitely want to be embalmed first before either being buried or cremated. This is to ensure that I will be dead before either happens, as to prevent the absolutely horrendous fate of premature burial, or live cremation from happening to me. Yes embalming will cost my family a bit of money, but it's worth it. It gives me peace of mind, and more importantly, it will make sure I will be dead before anything is done to me. I highly recommend that you do this too.