The death is the irreversible state of a biological organism having ceased to live . This state is characterized by a final and irreversible break in the consistency of the vital processes ( nutrition , respiration …) of the organism.

Level cell , death means the cessation of the basic functions of a cell. Within multicellular communities, this may be accidental death ( necrosis ) or controlled or programmed ( apoptosis ).

In the human being, the fact that the heart can stop beating for a moment before being resuscitated raises the question of the limit, or the transition between life and death. Faced with this issue, the World Organization for Animal Health considers death as “irreversible loss of brain activity as demonstrated by loss of brain stem reflexes” 1  : it thus adopts a definition of death as that brain death , as distinguished from a simple cardiac arrest , called state of “clinical death”.

Definition Forensic 

From a forensic perspective the death of a human being is when the body begins to decompose , from the moment when all the vital functions are suspended stopping the heart, breathing, blood flow, brain activity,  etc. Medically, some states lead irreparably to death, even though cells and certain organs continue to perform their functions. This is the case of brain death observed in some cases of coma .

This legal definition is important because it is what will allow acts such as the removal of organs for transplant: legal death in the above case the physiological death. Thus keeps people in a state of brain death under artificial respiration , when the heart continues to beat spontaneously: it keeps the organs in good condition for a withdrawal. Some countries allow the removal of organs heart stopped . This practice is controversial.


In most cases, death is seen by a doctor by clinical signs characterizing a cardiac arrest extended. This can be a failure of attempts cardiopulmonary resuscitation by a medical team , or by finding a family doctor at home for a person we know in later life (elderly or suffering from a diagnosed disease ).

In France, as in most developed countries, the doctor fills a death certificate with the date and time of the determination of death, the identity of the deceased, the suspected causes, lack of cons -Indication a burial or a cremation . The state of legal death results in loss of personal rights  : the deceased is no longer considered, with exceptions [suspicious information]  [?] , As a person in the legal sense .

General definition

The biological death is the result of permanent incapacity of an organism to resist the changes imposed by the environment . This definition defines also mirrored what life (in its broadest definition): the ability to maintain its integrity despite the pressure of the environment ( homeostasis ).

In terms of entropy (level of disorganization), it is for the body to maintain locally a entropy low. But the entropy of a closed system can only be steady or increase according to the principles of thermodynamics . The body must draw on its environment, hence the need to breathe,  etc. Death occurs when the organism can no longer draw and maintain its low entropy. The main source of energy on Earth is the light of the sun that enables photosynthesis .

Celled organisms 

We can be satisfied with the definition given above for the single-celled organisms such as bacteria , yeasts , the mushrooms unicellular. In effect, these organisms possess a form of resistance to variations in external conditions: the spore . For these organizations, the criterion of life becomes the following: the cell membrane is intact and separates an internal environment of different composition from the external environment. Death is therefore caused by rupture of the membrane. The presence of this form of resistance explains the difference between pasteurisation and sterilization , only the latter treatment killing spores.

Unicellular organisms also die from ‘old age’. This is pretty well documented in the case of yeast Saccharomyces sp . A mother cell divides two daughter cells. It has always been thought that these daughter cells are identical. This is not the case. There are indeed on one of the cells a scar visible on the membrane and reflects the division that has just occurred. Beyond a number of these scars, the cell can no longer divide: it will die of “old age”.


The viruses are in the inert. Thus, the issue of categorization of a virus among living organisms is not resolved satisfactorily, it is impossible to comment on the death of a general virus because it needs another living to survive.

That said, there are different types of virus, more or less on the side of the living or the inert. For example, many viruses are roughly the genetic code in a membrane with the property of merging with that of infected cells. These viruses can be compared to attractive books, the text being the genetic code. They would therefore be, from a biological point of view, rather on the inert side. For cons, the ATV virus ( Acidianus Two-tailed virus ) when it leaves the cell that produced a form of lemon and two arms push him at each end. It is an active process, so that this virus is the life side than the inert 2 . As the virus mimivirus , it contains a larger genetic code that certain bacteria, and at the same time DNA and RNA.

The drugs antiviral merely to prevent the virus from multiplying, by interfering with the replication of the genetic material, capsid formation or preventing the formation of complete virus. Preventing encapsidation of the genetic code of the virus RNA or DNA in the capsid viral therefore is a way to inactivate a virus. As soon as the conditions are met again (presence of a host cell, absence of antivirals), the virus will multiply again. The problem is complicated by the presence of a silent form of the virus in which the genetic code of the virus is integrated into that of the parasite host. The total destruction of the virus involves the destruction of this code.


Modern human fatality statistics are for people who have been living, if only a few seconds, excluding statistics stillbirth . However, in the past several countries included some deaths in stillbirths soon after birth, and therefore excluded them from mortality statistics, which raises problems of data comparability over time and space (between countries ) [ref. required] .

The causes of mortality are an important element of epidemiology. In France they are followed by a laboratory of INSERM , the CépiDc (epidemiology of medical causes of death Centre; Collaborating Centre WHO ) which supplies a database since 1968: nearly 18 million data derived from certificates death (established by doctors at the death certificate ) and death certificates (made by the registrar in the town hall) 3 .

Philosophy and religion

Death is apprehended differently according to philosophical or religious currents.


For a philosophical approach of death in contemporary thought see the article on the Being-towards-death

In paleontology , the discovery of burial rites is an important element in determining the degree of social awakening of a hominid .

This awareness of death is an engine of social cohesion (unite to resist calamities, the enemies) and action (to do something to leave a trace). It is an important element of reflection metaphysics . It is also what gives the symbolic power of acts such as homicide and suicide .

The Enlightenment in Europe, prompting the mastery of Nature , suggests the emergence of a rule of the degradation of the body of man.

According to the Phaedo of Plato, death is the separation of soul and body. Finally freed from his carnal prison, the immortal Soul can freely join the heaven of Ideas, Eternity, the domain of philosophers.

According to Epicurus , death is nothing because “as long as we exist death is not, and when death is we’re not. Death, therefore, has no relation either to the living or the dead, since it is no longer for the former and the latter are no longer. “( Letter to Menoeceus ).

Jankélévitch in Death , in turn reflects on the death of a grammatical point of view: “death in the third person is the death-in-general, abstract and anonymous death” (the death of “on”), “the first person is definitely a source of anxiety […] in first person, death is a mystery for me intimately and my all, that is to say in my nothingness” ( the death of the “I”), “there is the intermediate and privileged case of the second person  ; between the death of another, which is distant and indéfférente, and clean-death, which is even our being there close to the death of close “ (the death of the” you “).



In the animism , death is seen as a continuity to the point that we can say that there is not really dead in the animistic language and dialogue “dead” alive and continues without interruption.

A famous poem Birago Diop entitled Breaths 4 summarizes this perception:

“Those who are dead have never gone / They are in the Shadow (…) / The dead are not under the Earth: / They are in the Wood (…) / in the Water (…) / in the Crowd (…) / The Dead are not dead. “


For atheists death holds no mystery metaphysics  : it is no more difficult to understand than is the deep sleep , and there is no more life after death before birth.

According to the Greek philosopher Epicurus  :

“The most frightening evils, death, is nothing to us, I said: when we are, death is not, and when death is there, it is we who are not 5 . “

According to Wittgenstein , in the same spirit, but two millennia later:

“Death is not an event of life. We do not see death. If eternity is understood not of infinite duration but of timelessness, then it has eternal life which lives in the present. Our life has no end, as our field of vision is borderless 6 . “


Death is only a passage from one life to the other in the Buddhism which recognizes neither the god concepts nor soul. anatta  :

“There are two ideas, psychologically rooted in the individual: self-protection and self-preservation. For self-protection, man created God from whom he depends for his own protection, safeguard and security, just as a child depends on his parents. For self-preservation, man conceived the idea of ​​an immortal soul or Ātman that will live forever. In his ignorance, weakness, fear and desire, man needs these two things to reassure and console himself; that is why he clings to it with fanaticism and determination 7 . “

The Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead) describes the different stages of this transition from one life to another life and is a sort of guide providing various boards (abandonment of the ego,  etc. ) to make this transition.

For a being awake , death is not a transition from one life to another: it is the end of conditioning, so the end of any possible existence ( parinirvana ). The Buddha refused to talk about what might happen after death. Beliefs respected by Buddhism permitted acceptance of various beliefs. The Buddha clung to what was real, called ultimate truth, and to experimentation, the basis of our free choice. Conclusion: If you want to know what happens after death, ask one to die. He will not answer you. Conclusion death is the extinction of the living consequence of impermanence in an existing eternal.


The consequence of physical death is separation of the body with the soul that is immortal 8 . The body, meanwhile, must resurrect to rejoin the soul is in the End Times is the return of Christ (resurrection of those who died in Christ, the Blessed) or at the End of the World , resurrection of those who died without Christ (the Damned) for the last judgment is the final triumph of God and life.

At the moment of physical death, the soul of the deceased undergoes a special judgment. In the light of the truth of God, she accepts her love in full freedom. She says yes to the sanctifying grace offered to her by Christ, or she refuses and is thus cut off from communion with God and eternally damned. Purgatory is not to be understood as a third way but as an instrument of salvation 9 , a “purification, to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” 10 .

The souls that go to Purgatory are deprived of the vision of God (the “beatific vision”) and feel the regret of not doing all the good possible. Once purified, these souls leave Purgatory to Paradise and finally can “see God” (the damned them will never see God). Only the perfectly pure people can go directly to heaven: Jesus , Mary , for example.

The Protestants do not believe in the existence of Purgatory. For them, in fact, man chooses to live or not in conformity with the divine will, recognizing Jesus as his savior and Lord, before going to judgment or seeing God face to face:

“Indeed, God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but for the world to be saved by Him. Whoever puts his trust in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not have faith in Him is condemned already … “

– John 3v17

The Christian eschatology reflected on the meaning of death and the last purposes. There is an immediate judgment of the soul and a doomsday group so that the merits of each are known to all 12 .


The Hindu believes in life after death – the body is only a temporary material envelope. When there is time to leave the life, it is said that all the faculties of action and excitement fold in the mind ( manas ) and mental folds in the breath ( prana ) and the breath in the individual soul or Jivatman and finally it returns to Brahman and attained liberation or moksha 13 .

However, if his karma has accumulated the result of too many negative acts (evil deeds), the atman is embodied in a new body on a planet like the Earth (or smaller, which consists hell), in order to Undergo the weight of his evil deeds. If his karma is positive, he will go on living like a god or deva, on one of the celestial planets (superior to the earth, or paradise). Once exhausted his karma, the soul will return to earth in another body to be alive. This cycle is called “samsara”. To break this perpetual cycle, the Hindu must live in such a way that his karma is neither negative nor positive, as follows:

“The Lord Blessed said,” Though you speak wisely, you are grieved for no reason: neither the living nor the dead, the wise, weep. ” (2.12) “Never was the time when we existed, I, you and all these kings, and none of us will cease to be.” “

–  Bhagavad-Gita (II.11 and II 12.)

At the moment of death the mind is separated from the body. The uninitiated will then be seized with an irresistible desire to find one, which he will do. On the other hand, the initiate will know how to find the door of liberation.


In the Islam , the consequence of the death of the body is the separation of the latter with the soul (which is the angel of death, named Malak Al Mawt , who is responsible for this task). The body, on the other hand, must resurrect to rejoin the soul at the end of time during the Last Judgment. The Qur’an describes in detail and mentions many times the resurrection and the Last Judgment.

According to Islam, all beings are destined to die, as stated in Surah AL-IMRAN 3 The Family of Imran , verse 185: “Every soul shall taste death” . Including the angel of death himself, who will be the last to die, but with the exception of God, who is eternal.

From the perspective of the ritual, when a Muslim is at the threshold of death, he must pronounce the last time the shahada , the testimony of faith. Those who assist him in agony must incite him to repeat it and read the Surah 36 at the bedside of the dying man, for it incites the soul not to be tempted by the Devil in the throes of death. After death, the body is washed and wrapped in pieces of white cloth ( Al Kafn ), shroud, later Muslims are the funeral prayer Salat Al Janaza , preferably at the mosque, after which we proceed At the funeral as soon as possible. The body is buried face towards Mecca or, if in a coffin, it is positioned such that Mecca is to the right. The funeral rite is to throw dirt on the shroud (if there is no coffin), while those present pray and invoke God to help the deceased to answer the questions of Monkar and Nakir , The two angels who question the dead in their grave.


In Jainism , as in Hinduism , the soul is subject to the cycle of birth and death. The soul there is a separate entity that travel beyond the limits and the disappearance of the body 15 .


In the Jewish religion , it is considered that death is the irreversible cessation of the heart beat (or brain death, according to some).

When a person dies, he should be buried the same day if possible. A man (voluntary association, the Chevra Kadisha , the “holy brotherhood” in French) who does not know the deceased, cleanses the body, heals wounds (if the deceased had), dresses a dress White and covers the head of the deceased.

Then the lifting of the body takes place in one hour. The body of the deceased, (covered from head to foot), is exposed in a coffin in his house or in the hospital. Only the family is allowed to stay around the coffin. At that time, the person who cleaned the body reads tehillim . Finally, the funeral takes place. Friends and family go to the cemetery, a speech in homage of the deceased is pronounced and blessings are recited before the planting. When the coffin is buried, the mourners (sons, brothers and relatives of the deceased) throw earth on the coffin before burying it. Mourners then tear their clothes in mourning and finally recite the Kaddish .

The Jewish religion attaches extreme importance and profound respect to the deceased. The Kaddish shall then be recited at least once a day for one year from the burial in order to sanctify the divine name.

Mesoamerican polytheism 

Main article: Mesoamerican Religions .


The spiritualists consider that each individual exists before birth and incarnates on Earth to progress and an education experience. The incarnation causing a temporary loss of the memory of past lives. The death of the material body releases the eternal spirit of the man, who then returns a “spiritual dimension” corresponding to its level of advancement 16 .

Jehovah’s Witnesses 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses , believe that at death the body returns to dust (Ecclesiastes 3:20). Death to the Jehovah’s Witnesses is therefore the opposite of life. The dead therefore have no activity and do not realize anything (Ecclesiastes 9: 5,10).

The hope of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for the dead lies in the belief of the resurrection. This resurrection must take place on earth, when God has restored the original conditions (Paradise). Everyone, “just” or “unrighteous” must be resurrected according to John 5: 28,29. The resurrection of “judgment” for the “unjust” will be an opportunity for them to demonstrate their willingness to recognize God and his sovereignty.

Some men, the “anointed members” (numbering 144,000) will go alongside Jesus Christ to “administer” humans and paradise. They will join the spiritual milieu.


For Latter-day Saints ( Mormonism ), the pre-existence, life before birth in the presence of God, life on earth, tested by time and experience, and life after death are part of the plan hi .

After death, the spirit world is where awaits the spirit of man between death and the resurrection . It has two distinct parts: the spirit prison are received where those who did not obey the gospel or have not accepted while they were on earth or who have not had the opportunity To hear him, and paradise.

The gospel is taught in the spirit prison and those who accept the sacrament of baptism celebrated in their favor in the temples are in paradise. Every human being resurrected (meeting of body and mind) before being brought before God for final judgment which will be given the totality of the person on trial (knowledge, deeds, words, thoughts, desires, repentance). According to these criteria, one of the three degrees of glory , telestial, terrestrial or celestial (in the presence of God) will be assigned.


The high symbolic content of the death and the strong emotional charge related to the death of human beings have shaped the imagination of men who have created a character, Death , who picks people at the end of their lives.

Two symbolic representations stand out: the gentle and the austere. The first refers to the sweet death which liberates from the infinite sufferings to which life obliges us. The second emphasizes the cruel, cold and irremediable side that it can take when the relatives of the deceased mourn it.

Administrative procedures in France 

  • The only statement to the administration, upon the death of a parent, is part of online administrative procedures that will be performed via , a portal web of the French administration created in early 2009 17 .
  • The body can then be transported, without a coffin, in a specific vehicle, a funeral home , within maximum 48 hours after death. This transport, which requires prior declaration to the town hall of the place of death carried out by the funeral company itself, can be carried out:
    • Or of the health facility in which the death occurred at a home or funeral home,
    • Either from the domicile of the deceased or from the public road to the burial chamber.
  • In France, the burial or cremation of the body of the deceased must take place within a maximum of 6 days after death (not including Sundays and public holidays). If the statutory period of six days were to be exceeded, an exemption may be requested at the prefecture of the department of justifying the delay. The waiver request is made by the funeral home .