The key difference between somatic death and molecular death is that the somatic death (also known as clinical death) refers to the complete and irreversible cessation of the function of the brain followed by the cessation of the function of the heart and the lungs while molecular death (also known as cell death) refers to the cessation of the individual tissues and the cells.
In science, the death refers to the cessation of all metabolic and functional activities of a cell or an organism. Thus, thanatology is the area of science that studies about death. According to the thanatologists, death can be categorized into two main types; the somatic death and molecular death. Somatic death is the phenomenon when a person’s brain becomes dead followed by the cessation of the functional properties of the heart and the lungs. In contrast, molecular death takes place after the somatic death where the cells and organs undergo cessation. This depends on the availability of oxygen following somatic death. It is important to determine the somatic death and the molecular death at the time of the death of a person as a legal cause in order to confirm the death of the person.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Somatic Death
3. What is Molecular Death
4. Similarities Between Somatic Death and Molecular Death
5. Side by Side Comparison – Somatic Death vs Molecular Death in Tabular Form
What is Somatic Death?
Somatic cell death, also known as clinical death is the phenomenon where a person’s brain function ceases, and the activities stop. Usually, to confirm the somatic death, cessation of activities of the heart and lung should also be confirmed. In the previous criteria for the confirmation of somatic death, cessation of the heart and lung has observed. But, due to the introduction of heart transplantation, at present only the brain cessation uses as the criteria for somatic death. Brain death can be seen after 12 hours of observation of the death signals.
The diagnosis of somatic cell death is based on the following characters;
- Rigour Mortis – the stiffness attained following death.
- Livor mortis – discolouration of the body.
- Algor mortis – cooling of the body.
- Autolysis – the breakdown of tissues.
- Putrefaction – invasion by the gut microflora.
These changes that take place at clinical or somatic death are irreversible.
During the transplantation of organs upon somatic cell death, the transplantation process should take place immediately following the somatic death. Failing which the organs transplanted will not bear the ability to revive in a new system.
What is Molecular Death?
Molecular death is a synonym to cellular death. This takes place after the somatic cell death. During the molecular death, individual cells and other biomolecules in the system dye. This is due to the loss of blood flow and oxygen for the survival of the cells and the tissues. Therefore, following the somatic cell death, based on the oxygen levels, the cells can survive only for a few minutes until they undergo cessation.
The irreversible conditions that take place at somatic death can be confirmed by the molecular death, especially the rigour mortis and algor mortis. Confirmation of molecular death is important. In the case of an immediate body cremation, if the molecular death is not fulfilled, subtle movements of the body may take place giving rise to confusion as to whether the person is actually dead or not. Therefore, the medical personnel should confirm both the somatic death and the molecular death at the time of the death of a person.
What are the Similarities Between Somatic Death and Molecular Death?
- Somatic death and molecular death result in the cessation of the person’s metabolic and functional activities.
- Both show characteristics such as rigour mortis and algor mortis.
- These two processes must be confirmed before issuing the dead body after death.
- They are irreversible processes.
What is the Difference Between Somatic Death and Molecular Death?
If the functions of the brain stop and then the functions of the heart and lungs stop, we call it as somatic death. After somatic death, if the activities of the individual tissues and cells stop, we call it as molecular death. This is the key difference between somatic death and molecular death. The detection of both death processes is really important in order to confirm the death of a person.
The below infographic tabulates the difference between somatic death and molecular death.
Summary – Somatic Death vs Molecular Death
Somatic death and molecular death are important processes to determine the death of a person. Somatic death is the process of brain death followed by the cessation of activities of the heart and the lung. In contrast, molecular death takes place after somatic death. Hence, it is the cessation of activities of cells and biomolecules. These are irreversible processes. Hence, this is the difference between somatic death and molecular death.
1.”Example of a pig carcass in the bloat stage of decomposition”By Hbreton19 – Own work, (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2.”Signal transduction pathways”By cybertory (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia