Ask Your Preacher

Ask Your Preacher

“The Moment of Death”


My aunt is on a respirator. She isn't getting enough oxygen into her lungs and cannot breathe on her own. They have put her in a drug-induced coma while they try to figure out what is wrong with her. They are now worried that there was not enough oxygen to the brain, and she could be either brain damaged or brain dead. If they take her off the breathing machine now, she will die. We are all holding on to hope and praying that she will be healed and recover. But the doctors seem to have given up all hope. My question is: is her soul already gone? When does the soul leave the body? He heart is still beating, and all her organs are still working; to us she is still alive. But if the machine is doing the breathing for her, is she already in heaven?

Sincerely, Concerned Niece

Dear Concerned Niece,

Only God knows for sure when the soul leaves the body, but you can be confident that God is in control. We can’t perceive the moment the soul leaves someone’s body (Eccl 3:21). It is a scary thing to watch a loved one’s body deteriorate, but God makes sure that the angels escort the spirit of the faithful into Paradise when they die (Lk 16:22).

And that is the defining term, ‘die’ – when do we die? As technology increases, we are having to constantly redefine when a person is dead. It used to be that when someone stopped breathing, they were considered dead – but now we can resuscitate them. Then it was when the heart stopped; that became the new definition of ‘dead’ until the defibrillator came along. Currently, the most accepted definition of ‘dead’ is when there is no longer any brain or organ function. I say all this just to tell you that doctors themselves struggle with the problem of “when is someone dead?”.

Having said all that, if there is still any doubt in the doctors’ minds, then I would think of your aunt as still alive. She is breathing (with assistance), her organs are functioning, and they are assuming she still has brain activity. Her situation is very perilous, but she is still alive. Since she is alive, her soul is still in her. May God comfort and care for her and your family in this difficult time.