Category Archives: Aging Dying & Death

What is healthism? (part two)

Apple and stethoscopeIn part one of this post I explained the most common meaning of healthism (an excessive preoccupation with healthy lifestyles and feeling personally responsible for our health) and described an authoritarian sense of the term. Here I discuss healthism as an appeal to moral sentiments and as a source of anxiety. I also note an unusual definition of the term as the desire to be healthy, which leads me to end with a personal disclaimer.

Moral healthism

The directive to be personally responsible for our health – whether it comes from a government health policy, the medical profession, or an advertisement – is often fraught with unacknowledged moral overtones. People who practice healthy lifestyles (daily exercise, a Mediterranean diet) and dutifully follow prevention guidelines (annual cancer screenings, pharmaceuticals to maintain surrogate endpoints for risk reduction) are overtly or implicitly encouraged to feel morally superior to those who do not. This includes the right to feel superior to those who ‘choose’ to be unhealthy – after all, isn’t smoking a morally indefensible choice? The implication is that those who fail to take responsibility for their health are undeserving of our sympathy or assistance (especially financial).

This quality of healthism – like the anti-authority healthism discussed in part one – is possibly more common in the US than elsewhere. It’s unfortunate but true that in the US there’s a tendency to blame the poor and disadvantaged for not being able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There is a decided unwillingness to acknowledge that differences in wealth and social class during childhood have lifelong effects on behavior and health. Read more


Baby RB, Baby Isaiah, Baby Joseph

Baby Joseph MaraachliThese days, both the oldest and the youngest die in hospitals.

Baby RB suffered from a rare subtype of a genetic neuromuscular condition, congenital myasthenic syndrome, and spent his entire life – he was not yet two – on a respirator. After a protracted legal dispute between his health care providers in the UK and his parents (who disagreed on what should be done), he was allowed to die

Baby Isaiah was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck after 40 hours of labor. He suffered severe and irreversible brain damage. He was kept alive for four and a half months. Following a legal dispute with health care providers in Canada, his parents agreed to allow their child to die.

The current case in the spotlight is Baby Joseph Maraachli. He suffers from a “progressively deteriorating neurological condition” of unknown origin and is in a permanent vegetative state. He is 13 months old. A court in Ontario ruled that the health center treating Baby Joseph could remove the breathing tube keeping him alive. The parents have transferred the child to a hospital in St. Louis, where he will receive a tracheotomy. The story has received extensive coverage in Canada and is just beginning to show up in the US press.

According to Reuters:

Rebecca Dresser, a professor of law and medical ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, said U.S. courts generally side with families in such cases that want to continue treatment for loved ones even in seemingly hopeless medical cases.

Dresser said similar end-of-life cases will likely become more common.

“Because of the growing concerns about costs, we’re going to see more of this,” she said.

Read more


The absurdity of widowhood

Joyce Carol Oates and husband Raymond SmithThe New Yorker published a beautiful piece by Joyce Carol Oates on the death of her husband, Raymond Smith. Oates and Smith, who had been married 48 years, were in a car accident three years ago. The engine of their car was struck at high impact from the side, and their airbags inflated. Both Oates and Smith walked away from the scene, feeling lucky to be alive.

But the impact of the airbag had unknowingly damaged Smith’s lungs. Weeks later, feeling weak and feverish, he agreed to go to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, admitted to the hospital, and expected to recover. But a few weeks later, he died unexpectedly of a secondary infection acquired in the hospital.

Oates’ chronicle of the events, from the accident to her husband’s death, is vivid and moving. Especially poignant is her description of driving from her home to the hospital with heightened awareness and care after being informed that Smith had unexpectedly taken a turn for the worse. She arrived moments after his death. Read more


Misc Links 1/13/11

Genetically modified crooster can't get fluGM chickens created that could prevent the spread of bird flu (Guardian)
Genetically modified chickens can still catch the flu, but their “decoy” molecules confuse the replication cycle of viruses. Technique could also be applied to pigs

Blogs encouraging suicides in the gay community (KevinMD)
Suicide is contagious among the young. Is the blogosphere contributing to and encouraging a recent suicide epidemic among young gays?

Study Tying Vaccine to Autism Was `Not a Hoax,’ Researcher Says (Bloomberg)
Wakefield replies to accusations, saying there was no fraud and he did not seek profits. “I have lost my job, my career and my country.”

USDA Breaking News: Combat Obesity, School Lunches To Change Drastically (Medical News Today)
Salt content cut in half, reduced-fat milk the new norm, all grains would be whole, potatoes limited to one cup a week. Take that, Michelle Obama critics Read more


Misc Links 1/9/11

Man falling from World Trade towers

Complete text of articles in The Lancet require free registration.

Deadly Images (Slate)
Interview with author of “About To Die: How News Images Move the Public.” Images of the dead push viewers away, but news images of impending death are “effective.”

Where will new drugs come from? (Lancet)
Not from drug companies. Some suggestions on what can be done, but outlook is not good.

When is research on children ethical? (Lancet)
How to strike a balance between individual rights and the greater good. Review of David Wendler’s The Ethics of Pediatric Research.

Czech doctors resign en masse (Lancet)
After complaining for 20 years, thousands of doctors resign in protest over poor working conditions and low pay. Heatlh care system at risk of nation-wide collapse. Read more


Old age and the limitations of a healthy lifestyle

Old age and Alzheimer'sA nice op-ed in the NY Times touches on our belief that living a healthy lifestyle guarantees a long and able-bodied life. The author, Susan Jacoby, speaks specifically to the issue of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Members of the “forever young” generation — who, unless a social catastrophe intervenes, will live even longer than their parents — prefer to think about aging as a controllable experience. …

Contrary to what the baby boom generation prefers to believe, there is almost no scientifically reliable evidence that “living right” — whether that means exercising, eating a nutritious diet or continuing to work hard — significantly delays or prevents Alzheimer’s. …

Good health habits and strenuous intellectual effort are beneficial in themselves, but they will not protect us from a silent, genetically influenced disaster that might already be unfolding in our brains.

Jacoby cites a review of knowledge about Alzheimer’s sponsored by the National Institute of Health. (emphasis added) Read more


Tony Judt lives on

Tony Judt The Memory ChaletI miss Tony Judt. As I read the news every day, I speculate on what he would have to say. I was thinking of him during the mid-term elections as I listened to blatant misinformation about the Affordable Care Act coming from conservative politicians. Judt was interested in broader themes than mid-terms and health care, but his life was about intellectual honesty. He was never afraid to speak the truth, even if his position was controversial. Timothy Garton Ash makes this point quite nicely in his obituary of Judt.

So I was momentarily shocked today to see – in The New York Times – an op-ed by Judt. Turns out it’s from a collection of essays, The Memory Chalet, which goes on sale this Thursday. I was pleased to see that this particular essay – on New York City — was not one that I’d already read in The New York Review, so there are more new essays to read. The New York piece is a good example of how superbly Judt could write.

According to Timothy Synder, there is also a forthcoming book that he and Judt worked on together. Read more


Grey’s Anatomy donates a body to medicine

Grey's Anatomy Meredith Cristina GgeorgeWhile studying anatomy, I once spent a day with a cadaver whose stomach — normally located in the abdomen below the rib cage — had migrated up through the diaphragm and was now located behind the ribs. This was not simply a sliding hiatal hernia, but the rolling kind that occurs only about five percent of the time.

The body belonged to a small Asian woman. Her unusual condition may have been uncomfortable in life, but it had not prevented her from living for a very long time.

I wondered what prompted this woman to donate her complete body for use as a medical cadaver. Perhaps it was her unusual condition. By being a cadaver, she could acquaint thousands of students with the possibility of a rolling hiatal hernia. A description in a textbook is much less memorable than seeing the real thing. Of course with modern imaging technology, one almost doesn’t need to see a real cadaver these days.

I thought of this woman recently while watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, an extremely popular TV show that’s more soap opera than medical drama. I watch the show after it’s available on DVD, which is why I’m currently viewing last year’s episodes (season six). This was the season in which the young resident surgeon, George O’Malley (played by T.R. Knight), did not return. Read more


Should grief be labeled and treated as depression?

GrievingThe American Psychiatric Association (APA) is in the process of revising the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – the psychiatrist’s bible. Its last incarnation — known as DSM IV — was published in 1994, with a “text revision” in 2000. The new version will be DSM V.

Psychiatrist Daniel Carlat described some of the initial arguments over revisions as a bar room brawl. Now that the APA has moved the publication date forward from 2011 to 2013, the number of publically traded insults appears to have died down.

One item in dispute is whether bereavement – the grieving process that follows the loss of a loved one – might qualify a patient for the DSM label Major Depressive Episode. Many symptoms of bereavement are similar to those of depression, such as feeling sad, poor appetite, weight loss, and insomnia.

Here’s one of the APA’s needlessly obscure arguments for including bereavement.

The exclusion of symptoms judged better accounted for by Bereavement is removed because evidence does not support separation [or] loss of loved one from other stressors.

In other words: Bereavement symptoms should be included because bereavement is a source of stress. Just as divorce, job loss, illness, and disability cause stress, so does the loss of a loved one. The assumption here is that stress can lead to depression. Read more


Knowing when you’ll die: Tony Judt’s last interview

Tony Judt on Charlie RoseTony Judt died on August 6. He had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in September of 2008. Over the years he had been both guest and guest host on the Charlie Rose show. Rose interviewed Judt just eight days before he died. As you can see from the video, Rose was visibly moved as he introduced the interview – Judt’s last, as it turned out.

Contemplating death

Death is a huge uncertainty in anyone’s life. A friend once told me of a woman with leukemia who said “At least now I know what I’m going to die from.” For some, this knowledge brings relief.

What I find fascinating about the shared experiences of those with a limited time to live is the uniqueness of each response. What I find valuable is the opportunity to contemplate my own life and death.

Here is Judt’s answer to a question on his thoughts on dying and any insights into living.

I’m better on living than I am on dying because, until you die, you know nothing about it, but by then it’s too late. But I can tell you a little bit about the peculiarity of knowing you’re going to die and knowing when – roughly speaking.

Most of us, most of the time, have absolutely no idea where we’ll be in five years – you, me, anyone — anything could happen to a normal person. But we’re pretty clear where we’ll be next month: doing the same thing we’re doing this month.

My situation is exactly the reverse. I have no idea where I’ll be next month. I could be silent. I could be dead. I could be exactly like this. I could be in a variety of stages. But I know, absolutely with certainty – within reason – that I’ll be dead in five years. And that reversal of consciousness means that I am very focused upon life in the next two weeks.

Read more


Palliative care: Lost and recovered

Victorian deathbedHere’s an excerpt from the third and last part of the interview with me by Dr. Lisa Marcucci at Inside Surgery. The question asked for a little known fact from the history of medicine.

Easing the pain of death was a common medical practice in the 19th century. The doctor’s black bag contained laudanum as early as the 1600s. The 19th century added morphine (1806), codeine (1836), and aspirin (1892), along with the anesthetics chloroform and ether. At a time when physicians had very little to offer patients by way of cures – other than the ineffective “heroic” measures of bloodletting and purges — it was palliative care that made physicians welcome at the deathbed.

In those days, easing pain at the time of death was not called palliative care, but euthanasia. The term referred to the outward death of the body, in contrast to the death of the spirit. Euthanasia literally means a good death.

In 1870 a school teacher named Samuel Williams published an essay that used the term euthanasia to mean something else: mercy killing. The essay generated considerable interest and discussion. To make a long story short, the original meaning of the term euthanasia was completely lost.

Read more


Tony Judt — continued

Tony JudtMore tributes to Tony Judt following his death on Friday.

Tony Judt, Historian And Author, Dies At 62 (NPR)

Focuses on the controversy over Judt’s position on Israel.

“I think he was one of the most important intellectual historians of our era,” said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Middle East history at Columbia University and a friend of Judt’s. “He was also, I think, one of the most courageous public intellectuals of his generation.”

His 2003 essay on Israel caused a firestorm. In it, Judt called for a single, binational Jewish-Arab state in the Middle East. He lost many friends over that essay.

“I think he thought he was performing a public service,” said Khalidi. “I think he felt there is so much misinformation that it would be inevitable that he was saying things frankly and bluntly that people didn’t want to hear [and] would inevitably make him unpopular. I don’t think he cared about it.”

Tony Judt, scholar of European history, dies at 62 (Washington Post)

Read more


I am saddened by the death of Tony Judt

Tony JudtI feel as if I’ve been on a death watch for Tony Judt all year. In his January essay, “Night,” in The New York Review of Books, he discussed his 2008 diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Helplessness is humiliating even in a passing crisis—imagine or recall some occasion when you have fallen down or otherwise required physical assistance from strangers. Imagine the mind’s response to the knowledge that the peculiarly humiliating helplessness of ALS is a life sentence (we speak blithely of death sentences in this connection, but actually the latter would be a relief).

Judt’s brilliant mind remained undiminished by the disease. He dictated a series of essays – autobiographical reminiscences with contemporary insights. They appeared in each new issue of the NYRB.

Read more


Atul Gawande: Modern death and dying

The good deathAn article in The New Yorker by Atul Gawande on how modern clinical medicine has turned death and dying into an experience we would not wish on our enemies. This is so much in need of being said. And heard, discussed, and acted upon.

Our medical system is excellent at trying to stave off death with eight-thousand-dollar-a-month chemotherapy, three-thousand-dollar-a-day intensive care, five-thousand-dollar-an-hour surgery. But, ultimately, death comes, and no one is good at knowing when to stop. …

Spending one’s final days in an I.C.U. because of terminal illness is for most people a kind of failure. You lie on a ventilator, your every organ shutting down, your mind teetering on delirium and permanently beyond realizing that you will never leave this borrowed, fluorescent place. The end comes with no chance for you to have said goodbye or “It’s O.K.” or “I’m sorry” or “I love you.”

People have concerns besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys of patients with terminal illness find that their top priorities include, in addition to avoiding suffering, being with family, having the touch of others, being mentally aware, and not becoming a burden to others. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the cost of this failure is measured in far more than dollars. The hard question we face, then, is not how we can afford this system’s expense. It is how we can build a health-care system that will actually help dying patients achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.

Read more


Suicide among veterans is an “absolute crisis”

Soldier crying, PTSDAccording to the Times, 347 soldiers were killed last year, and 381 committed suicide.

Legislation to provide funds for the mental health of military personnel and veterans was removed from a Congressional bill last year for budgetary reasons. The Times comments:

Considering the two wars were declared and waged with scant attention to their full costs, lawmakers add insult to injury by invoking budget concerns for the traumatic needs of actual warriors.

The medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention testified before a House subcommittee this month that suicide among veterans is an “absolute crisis.”

A provision on mental health care for the military appears again in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. It’s been approved by the House and needs final approval by the Senate. You can email your senator from the Senate contact information page. Senators are listed in order of state.

As a blogger wrote at the site where I found this photo, “The real question is, why don’t we care anymore?”

Read more


Links of interest: Suicide

ma-xiangquianSurveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 States, 2007 (CDC)

The latest official statistics on US violent deaths, including suicides, from the CDC. The report covers the year 2007, with information from 16 states. You might think the latest statistics would be more recent, but the CDC does an extensive amount of analysis. The report contains 39 tables that compare such things as the manner of death, the mechanism of injury, precipitating events, and whether more than one person was involved. Here’s a summary of the suicide analysis by age group and ethnicity (emphasis added):

Overall, the crude suicide rate was 11.6 per 100,000 population. The rate for males was more than three times that for females (18.4 and 5.0 per 100,000 population, respectively). Non-Hispanic whites accounted for the largest number of suicide deaths, and AI/ANs [American Indian/Alaskan Native] and non-Hispanic whites had the highest rates of suicide (18.2 and 14.0 per 100,000 population, respectively). The highest rates of suicide by age group occurred among persons aged 45–54 years, 75–84 years, and 35–44 years (17.6, 16.4, and 16.3 per 100,000 population, respectively). Children aged 10–14 years had the lowest rates of suicide among all age groups (0.8 per 100,000 population). Rates of suicide among adolescents aged 15–19 years (6.9 per 100,000 population) were approximately half of those for persons aged ≥30 years.

Suicide Rate Highest in Middle Age (MedPage Today)

A summary of highlights from the CDC report, including this observation:

Alcohol was a factor in about one-third of all suicides, and alcohol and drug abuse ranked second behind depression and other mood disorders as the most frequent risk factors for suicidal behaviors, the report authors wrote.

As Thomas Joiner writes in Myths about Suicide, the role of alcohol in suicidal behavior is complex. He cites an interesting study in which there was a high correlation between a mother’s consumption of alcohol and the suicide of an adolescent child. “[A]lcohol use is a signal of a deeper substrate of chronic risk – a risk that is passed on from parents to children. … [N]ot a lot of women [drink excessively]; for her to do so means that she has a severe underlying condition, and that severity is getting signaled to you [the child] either genetically or through family environment.”

Electronics Maker Promises Review After Suicides (The New York Times)

A report on employee suicides at Chinese company Foxconn, a major supplier of electronics for Apple, Dell, and HP. Run with “military-style” efficiency, employees work 12-hour shifts under constant camera surveillance. They live in cramped dormitories, with as many as 10 to a room. The dormitories house 330,000 to 400,000 people. In its defense, the company boasted that it provided recreational facilities, but the employees are too exhausted to use them. As of May 28, there had been 13 suicide attempts this year, ten of them successful and three with serious injuries. Employees jump from the upper floors of their dormitories. Foxconn is erecting netting.

Read more


Suicide in Japan (part 2): The Internet and media coverage


Continued from Suicide in Japan (part 1): The recession.

The Internet plays a role in Japanese suicides, especially among the young. There’s easy access both to tips on committing suicide and to individuals willing to join in a suicide pact.

A few years ago, there was an epidemic of joint suicides using carbon monoxide from charcoal briquettes. This was followed in popularity by hydrogen sulfide, a chemical produced by combining readily available detergents. The poisonous gas is highly dangerous to anyone who comes to the rescue.

In April [2008], 80 people were injured and another 120 had to be evacuated after a 14-year-old girl killed herself with hydrogen sulfide in southern Japan’s Kochi prefecture. She’d left a note on the door of her family’s apartment that said, “Gas being emitted. Don’t open,” according to the Kyodo news service.

There was a story in Tokyo Vice of a polite and considerate young man who electrocuted himself and left a sign on his naked back, warning people not to touch him. “Do not touch me, please. Imminent danger of electrocution.” Nearby was a suicide manual that recommended the method and provided instructions.

Is media coverage educational or inflamatory?

Read more


Suicide in Japan (part 1): The recession

aokigahara-forest-japanWhen the Great Recession was in its infancy, late in 2008, there was speculation on the impact of the economic downturn on health. Many stories featured the studies of economist Christopher Ruhm, who claimed health improves during economic hard times. What his statistics actually showed was that fewer people died, perhaps due to fewer automobile accidents. That’s not quite the same as improved health.

Though I never found Ruhm’s reasoning very convincing, there was one statistic that made sense. Of the ten causes of death Ruhm had tracked, the only one that didn’t fall with economic hardship was suicide.

Number of Japanese suicides exceeds 30,000 for 12th straight year

Statistics for suicide in the US are not yet available for 2009, but they’ve just been released for Japan, a country where suicide is a significant social problem. As Japanese sociologist Kayoko Ueno writes: “Suicide rates are increasing at such high speed in Japan that it has made scholars wonder if the proper name for the phenomenon is suicide or social murder.”

Here are the 2009 numbers for Japan. For comparison, the number of suicides in the US per 100,000 people was 11.6 in 2007.

• For people in their 20s, the number is 24.1, an all-time high (“Young people are having difficulties in finding the meaning of life,” according to a representative of a suicide prevention organization).

• For those in their 30s, the number is 26.2.

• For those in their 40s to 60s, the number is over 30.

These numbers are for both men and women. The statistics for men only are much higher.

Prior to 1998, the number of annual suicides had ranged between 15,000 and 25,000. Suicides peaked in 2003 at 34,427, but the number has remained over 30,000 for the past 12 years. The total for 2009 is 32,845.

Is it the economy or is it something about Japanese society?

Read more


Are married people happier? Are parents?

Happy Family Hugging Each OtherResearch tells us that married people are happier than the unmarried, that is, they’re happier than those who are single, separated, divorced, widowed, or simply living together. This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a cause and effect relationship going on here: Get married, be happy. It could be that happy people are more inclined to marry in the first place and that we enjoy staying married to a happy spouse.

While studies (PDF) find that marriage increases a sense of “well-being” (another term for happiness), that state of mind may be only temporary. After a few years, bride and groom seem to return to the level of happiness they enjoyed before the big day.

As Derek Bok points out in The Politics of Happiness, conflicting answers to questions about marriage and happiness may result from observing two different groups: Those who become happier with the years and those whose marriages go sour. When you combine the two, the results may very well cancel each other out.

The end of a marriage. The health benefits of marriage.

So we don’t have a definitive answer to the question “Are married people happier?” What is certain, however, is that the end of a marriage – whether through separation, divorce, or death – is followed by a sharp decline in happiness. On a scale of 100, the average drop in happiness following divorce is 5 points and, following separation, the drop is 8 points. Why the greater unhappiness with separation? Perhaps, as Bok suggests, those who divorce were unhappier with their marriage to begin with, so they now feel some relief. Or perhaps the separated are still adjusting to the change, whereas the divorced have had more time to adapt.

We do know that married people live longer. One study (PDF), for example, found that the impact of marriage on how long we live was much greater than the impact of how much we earn. The longevity benefit for men can be quantified as equivalent to a lifetime of not smoking. The longevity benefits for married women are only half as much as for men. Hmmm.

Read more


Links of interest: Funerals, cremations, wakes

Chronicle of a Death We Can’t Accept (The New York Times)

[A]s a society, Americans are no longer sure what to do with our dead. … Today … our death rituals have become downsized, inwardly directed, static and, as a result, spiritually and culturally impoverished. … At upbeat, open-mike “celebrations of life,” former coaches, neighbors and relatives amuse us with stories and naïvely declare that the dead, who are usually nowhere to be seen and have nowhere to go, will nevertheless live always in our memories. Funerals, which once made confident public pilgrimage through town to the graveyard, now tread lightly across the tiny tableau of our psyches. …

For the first time in history, the actual presence of the dead at their own funerals has become optional, even undesirable, lest the body break the illusion of a cloudless celebration, spoil the meditative mood and reveal the truths about grief, life and death that our thinned-out ceremonies cannot bear. … [W]e will be healthier as a society when we do not need to pretend that the dead have been transformed into beautiful memory pictures, Facebook pages or costume jewelry, but can instead honor them by carrying their bodies with sad but reverent hope to the place of farewell.

Army preserves items of remembrance at Section 60, Arlington’s place for Iraq, Afghan war dead (Associated Press)

Unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, where the National Park Service collects and stores such objects daily, Arlington is a working military cemetery with strict rules to keep it pristine. Because there were no collection procedures in place, most of the items left at grave sites simply ended up in the trash.

That changed in the early fall when the U.S. Army Center of Military History at Fort McNair in Washington quietly stepped in at the request of then-Army Secretary Pete Geren. Now, each Thursday, typically three curators in dark jackets carrying cameras walk through Section 60 to collect and catalog nonperishable objects left at the graves.

Arlington changes policy on grave site mementos (Salon)

To read the AP article, it would seem the Army just suddenly decided to care about Section 60. … That’s not the whole truth. In July, Salon began reporting on management problems at Arlington, which led to a sweeping inspector general investigation. In the very first story package, we zeroed in on Section 60. One article showed how, to the chagrin of family members, the Army was throwing away almost all of the photos, cards, letters, medals, artwork and other mementos left there, unlike similar mementos left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Another Sign of the Recession — Cremation on the Rise (CBS News)

“These are tough economic times,” said National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) spokesperson Jessica Koth, “and what we are hearing from our members is that more and more families are opting for cremation” as a low-cost alternative to a traditional burial.

Read more


Links of interest 4/26

Chocolate lovers ‘are more depressive’, say experts (BBC News)

Absence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping in Williams syndrome children (Current Biology)

Raising a child with Williams Syndrome (NPR)

Andrew O’Hagan on Self-Helponauts: You have only one chance to be happy (London Review of Books)

Harnessing older people as a resource in the coming population crash (Salon – Be prepared to close obnoxious loud audio ad on loading)

Daily Kos interviews Maryn McKenna, author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA (Daily Kos)

Hospital patients most likely to carry MRSA: Long-term elder care, HIV-infected, kidney dialysis (HealthDay)

Putting bacterial antibiotic resistance into reverse (Physorg)

Dying man sells ad space on his urn (myFOXla)

Image Source: BBC News


Evidence of successful aging

Smiling older womanA personals ad from a recent New York Review of Books:

WOMAN, 79 (LOOKS 78), Upper West Side pseudo-intellectual, Europe 4 years, wants man’s company occasionally for chamber concerts, lectures, meals. Platonic.

I’d love to meet this woman. I imagine her life as a Henry James novel written by Oscar Wilde.

Related posts:
Advertising for love in Victorian times


Sesame Street’s When Families Grieve

Military father and children

Source: Rough Notes

One in 20 American children under the age of 15 experiences the death of a parent. For military families, the rate is even higher.

Tomorrow night (April 14) Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, will present an hour-long special on losing a parent. It airs on PBS at 8:00 PM ET/PT (check local listings).

Katie Couric will host the special. Her daughters were two and six years old when she lost her husband 12 years ago. The program, called When Families Grieve, is designed to aid communication between adults and children on this difficult subject.

Sesame’s outreach initiatives harness the power of the Sesame Street Muppets to aid the communication between adults and children through strategies and language that are child-appropriate and useful for the whole family.

Read more


Tony Judt: On the edge of a terrifying world

tony-judtTony Judt, the historian and author, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2008. He describes his condition as “progressive imprisonment without parole.” The life expectancy of ALS patients is normally two to five years after diagnosis.

Judt, who contributes regularly to The New York Review of Books, has been publishing brief memoirs that touch on the many meaningful aspects of his life. Since he has been passionately involved with history and social democracy, the essays reflect on historical change and what the future will bring.

Read more


Baby Isaiah’s parents expect second child

Doris Wilson, a well-known nursing professor at the University of Alberta, has called for a public inquiry into the circumstances of Baby Isaiah’s birth. It’s unclear why a C-section was not performed over the course of the 40-hour labor or why the mother was not airlifted to another hospital. Evidently an investigation of the hospital has already occurred, but the details are confidential and are not being released to the public at this time. Read more


Actions surrounding the moment of death are highly symbolic

In a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Is It Always Wrong to Perform Futile CPR?”, a doctor describes the case of a baby boy who had been born with a large encephalocele on his forehead – a neural tube defect that allows the brain and its surrounding membrane to protrude… Read more


Baby Isaiah May, October 24, 2009 – March 11, 2010

Source: The Vancouver Sun Baby Isaiah May was allowed to die today, in the arms of his parents. The child was surrounded by 10 family members, including a grandmother who had traveled from Washington State. Today was the date set for the next court appearance in the May’s attempt to keep their child alive. In… Read more


Olbermann on the damage done by "death panels"

Last October, in a one-hour special commentary on health care reform, Keith Olbermann discussed his father’s illness in personal and graphic detail. Last night he provided an update that began: “Last Friday night my father asked me to kill him.” Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy Olbermann and his… Read more


Baby Isaiah: February update

Source: The Windsor Star Four-month-old Baby Isaiah suffered irreversible brain damage at birth when his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. Medical authorities recommended that the child be disconnected from the ventilator that keeps him alive. Isaiah’s parents have sought to keep their child on life support through the legal system. See here and here… Read more