Hello BBC, 1953 calling, we would like our medical dictionary back.

"Bolton midfielder Muamba was technically "dead" for 78 minutes" BBC Sport
 Despite being commonly used to refer to a kind of near death experience during unconscious cardiac arrest in certain circles, there doesn't appear to be a technical distinction between being medically dead and being actually dead.

You know. As a Can of Spam. Bit the dust. Kicked the Bucket. Dead. etc.

Update: the BBC have since revised the original article that provoked this blog post to remove the phrase "technically dead" from the title (edited article here http://is.gd/7qBpL2 16/Apr/2012), so I am looking to track down a screen-shot of the original article if I can, but it's still in the main body of the follow-up articles for historical record.

So they repeatedly described his condition as being "technically dead for 78 minutes". Despite him being not actually technically, or otherwise dead.

All something along the lines of this:
"Bolton midfielder Muamba was technically "dead" for 78 minutes after collapsing in Wanderers' FA Cup tie at Tottenham last month."(http://is.gd/f7SQFB)
But a few hours research into British and US technical terminology do not throw up any reliable source for the idea that medical or legal professionals use the term "technically dead" in a way that includes the reversible stage of cardiac arrest.

The Bolton doctor Jonathan Tobin, who saved Fabrices life, at one point used the phrase "at that point he was effectively dead" (http://is.gd/7qBpL2)

It doesn't seem reasonable to interpret that phrase "effectively dead" as a professional determination of technical death, but as an appreciation that at that point that Fabrices life functions were entirely assisted, and that he was very near death indeed.

However the term "clinically dead" seems to be in popular usage to mean in a state of cardiac arrest and unconsciousness, and is frequently cited as having a medical justification.  (google search term "clinically dead", http://is.gd/QzU6Rv)

Obviously the mother-lode of this sort of usage is the type pseudo-self-help  of stuff on Yahoo! answers - http://is.gd/BMxFFe *

One possible justification for the use of this weak form seems to be the wikipedia article "Clinical Death" (Clinical death, March 18 revision, http://is.gd/yO5XwI), which has a rather non-authoritative citation to the  "Encyclopedia of Death and Dying." and the following definition :
"Clinical death is the medical term for cessation of blood circulation and breathing, the two necessary criteria to sustain life."

 A fairly basic check seems to indicate that none of the main British Medical Institutions are using the phrase in that sense: to mean reversible cardiac arrest. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges provide this usage:
"Death is considered to be a state in which an individual has simultaneously and irreversibly lost both the capacity for
consciousness and the capacity to breathe."

The American medical association (AMA) revised their definition of death to include the "irreversible cessation" term in 1980;
"The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1980 formulated the Uniform Determination of Death Act. It states that: "An individual who has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem is dead. A determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards." This definition was approved by the American Medical Association in 1980 and by the American Bar Association in 1981." (medicinenet.com, http://is.gd/zhGLYA)

I am aware that my very limited research might have failed to uncover a more specific use of the phrase in regard to paramedics, or resuscitation sub-fields of medicine, but if so I would probably go and update the wiki-pedia article with the details. (and sheepishly delete this post, and apologise to the journalists)

Update: UK definitions

Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. A Code of Practice for the Diagnosis and Confirmation of Death, October 2008. http://

There is more in the metro;

"Fabrice Muamba 'technically dead' for 78 minutes, says Bolton doctor"
Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/sport/football/893824-fabrice-muamba-technically-dead-for-78-minutes-says-bolton-doctor#ixzz1sMSJpqFC

Some other random pickings on the web about definitions of death;

"The first pronouncement from the British medical establishment on brain death was made in 1976 in a paper of the Conference of the Medical Royal Colleges entitled "Diagnosis of brain death". This document describes the procedures for the diagnosis and asserts that for a diagnosis of brain death what is required is the irreversible loss of all function of the brainstem [whence the term 'brainstem death' was coined]." (The Linacre Centre article, Roman Catholic academic institute,  http://www.linacre.org/death.html)


Journal of the AMA




Yahoo - definition: "a boorish, crass, or stupid person", "a member of a race of brutes in Swift's Gulliver's Travels who have the form and all the vices of humans") Ha!

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