Dr. Peter Rasmussen: retired oncologist, hospice physician and advocate for Oregon's Death with Dignity law, was given a terminal brain cancer diagnosis in Spring 2014. The Oregon Statesman Journal followed Dr. Rasmussen's end-of-life journey in articles, photos and videos, as he grappled with the same issues he once fought for on behalf of his own patients. Harper's Magazine: When I Die. [more inside]
For most of US history, our relationship with death was more intimate than it is today. Americans often died at home and remained there until burial, where they were washed, wrapped in shrouds, and laid out on boards while the family made preparations for a funeral feast and an at-home funeral. In addition to family, women known as “Layers Out of the Dead,” helped take care of the immediate tasks following a death. This homespun approach to death largely persisted until the Civil War, when embalming, hospitals and eventually funeral directors changed the way we dealt with our deceased. But now, with home funerals and even green burials slowly regaining acceptance, a new generation of “Layers Out of the Dead,” are emerging.
Euthanasia for psychiatric patients was rare in the early years of the law, but patients complained that they were being unfairly stigmatized: psychic suffering, they argued, was just as unbearable as physical pain. Like cancer patients, they were subjected to futile treatments that diminished their quality of life. Dirk De Wachter, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Leuven and the president of the ethics commission for the university's psychiatric center, said that he reconsidered his opposition to euthanasia after a patient whose request he had rejected committed suicide. In 2004, she set up a camera in front of a newspaper office in Antwerp and set herself on fire.Rachel Aviv traveled to Belgium, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002, to report on the complications and consequences that surround the practice of assisted suicide and euthanasia for psychiatric patients: The Death Treatment.
The Last Day of Her Life. When Cornell psychology professor Sandy Bem found out she had Alzheimer’s, she resolved that before the disease stole her mind, she would kill herself. The question was, when? [more inside]
The Morbid Anatomy Museum, a treasure trove of pathological and funereal curiosities, antique medical models, and anatomical art pledged to "exploring the intersections of death, beauty, and that which falls between the cracks," has opened its doors to the public in Gowanus, Brooklyn. [more inside]
Post-operative Check: "It's okay that you don't remember me. My name is Shara, and I'm part of the surgical team. I'm checking to see how you're doing after your surgery. Do you know where you are right now?" [more inside]
“I am going to put you on a bit of morphine,” I said, like I was used to saying such things, announcing to dying patients that I was going to put them on a drug named for Morpheus, the god of sleep, descended from Thanatos, the god of death." A doctor reflects on the art of dying in 21st century America.
In 1986, Sandra Clarke was working as a staff nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, OR when a dying man asked her to sit with him. She agreed but first needed to make her rounds and the man died alone in his room before she was able to return. Troubled, and feeling that she had failed a patient, she resolved to gather volunteers to stay with those who were alone and close to death. Ms. Clarke enlisted her entire hospital for a bedside vigil system to help ensure that patients would not be alone when they died. In 2001, Sacred Heart formalized the program as No One Dies Alone (NODA) and over the last decade, it has spread to hospitals across the US. "Susan Cox Is No Longer Here" offers us a glimpse into the NODA experience in Indianapolis. [more inside]
The Nazi Anatomists. "How the corpses of Hitler's victims are still haunting modern science—and American abortion politics."
The Course of Their Lives. While much in medicine has changed over the last century, the defining course of a first year medical student's education is still 'Gross Anatomy.' This is their hands-on tour of a donated cadaver -- an actual human body -- and is an experience which cannot be replicated by computer models. When Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Mark Johnson came up with the idea of following a med school gross anatomy class for a feature story, his editor challenged him to make it different. So he chose to intertwine the students' stories with that of Geraldine 'Nana' Fotsch, a living future donor, as sort of a stand-in for the cadaver. (Via. This four-part series contains descriptions of a human dissection. Some may find it disturbing.) [more inside]
A Life-Or-Death Situation. "As a bioethicist, Margaret "Peggy" Pabst Battin fought for the right of people to end their own lives. After her husband’s cycling accident, her field of study turned unbearably personal." Via.
291 diseases and injuries + 67 risk factors + 1,160 non-fatal complications = 650 million estimates of how we age, sicken, and die
As humans live longer, what ails us isn't necessarily what kills us: five data visualizations of how we age, sicken, and die. Causes of death by age, sex, region, and year. Heat map of leading causes and risks by region. Changes in leading causes and risks between 1990 and 2010. Healthy years lost to disability vs. life expectancy in 1990 and 2010. Uncertainties of causes and risks. From the team for the massive Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010. [more inside]
Heaven is Real: A Doctor's Experience of the Afterlife. As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences...In the fall of 2008, however, after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.
"The business of recycling dead humans into medical implants is a little-known yet lucrative trade. But its practices have roused concerns about how tissues are obtained and how well grieving families and transplant patients are informed about the realities and the risks." After an eight month international investigation, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has published an extensive four-part exposé into the black market for cadavers and human tissue: Skin and Bone: The Shadowy Trade in Human Body Parts (Via) [more inside]
It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little.How Doctors Die.
Even a little too much Tylenol over a few days can cause a liver failure. Paracetamol or acetaminophen, active ingredient of such over-the-counter painkillers as Tylenol, Panadol, Anacin-3 and many, many others, is considered safe - and it is, in prescribed doses. But even a single overdose can lead to liver failure despite treatment, and then only a liver transplant can avert a fatal outcome. [more inside]
Last week Johnson & Johnson announced that it is lowering the maximum daily dose for single-ingredient Extra Strength Tylenol from 8 to 6 pills per day (from 4,000 to 3,000 mg). [more inside]
"There are no national standards or regulations regarding forensic pathology and practices vary widely from place to place."
The Hardest Cases: When Children Die, Justice Can Be Elusive A joint investigation by PBS Frontline, ProPublica and NPR has found that medical examiners and coroners have repeatedly mishandled cases of infant and child deaths, helping to put innocent people behind bars. (Via. (Article contains descriptions of children that have been killed by abuse. May be disturbing / triggering to some readers.) [more inside]
The Burns Archive is a collection of over 700,000 historical photographs that document disturbing subject matter: obsolete medical practices and experiments, death, disease, disasters, crime, revolutions, riots and war. Newsweek posted a select gallery this past October, as well as a video interview and walk-through with curator and collector Dr. Stanley B. Burns, a New York opthalmologist. (Via) (Content at links may be disturbing to some.) [more inside]
Gather 'Round the Cadaver! : A new "coffee-table" book, Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine is a new collection of photographs documenting what happened when bored medical students of the early 1900s met the camera.
Do Not Resuscitate. "For families facing the impending death of a loved one, few topics trigger more anguish than the Do Not Resuscitate order... There is little ambiguity in a DNR order: Emergency medical staff must withhold CPR and other life-reviving treatments if the patient's heart or breathing stops, allowing death." But, DNR orders aren't always cut-and-dried. There are many situations that complicate the medical professional's decision to comply. Related: Some people have opted to get a "D.N.R." tattoo, but others have wondered if it will hold up in court as a legal directive. [First link Via].
Morbid Anatomy - an excellent blog with a focus on art, medicine, death, and culture. Great viewing anytime, but it might also be a good reference source for any macabre seasonal celebrations!
"By early 2005, nearly one-third of the wounded soldiers admitted to the National Naval Medical Center had been colonized by the bacteria."
Rumors were circulating at the hospital that insurgents dosed their homemade bombs with the flesh of dead animals. ---multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter, and how we brought it to Iraq ourselves. "My colleagues and I have been looking for Acinetobacter baumannii in soil samples for years, and we haven't found it," she says. "These organisms are quite rare outside of hospitals." In other news, conditions in Iraqi hospitals are so bad due to lack of even the most basic supplies they're calling it a breach of the Geneva Conventions.
Interactive Autopsy [Flash]
Life after death, interesting though short reading. Scientific materialism takes a slight beating? Maybe. Nice that somebody finally tested the low oxygen theory that's been flying around since the 70's.