• Freezing Yourself like Time in a Bottle

    Cryogenic Preservation Is Changing What It Means to Be Dead
    If you could freeze yourself until a future age, are you sure you’d want to?
    Judith Shulevitz, The New Republic (July 27, 2014)

    Good article in The New Republic on the uses (and abuses) of extreme cold technology for the nearly dead, almost dead, and very certainly completely dead.

    Just remember: cryopreserving yourself for the future may one day be feasible (maybe), but is it desirable?

    That’s the question.

    Besides, the actor Timothy Hutton can only defend the rights of one defrosted humanoid during his lifetime.

    Cryogenic Preservation Is Changing What It Means to Be Dead If you could freeze yourself until a future age, are you sure you’d want to?…

  • Day 24: How Praying Really Hard and Grave Sucking Might Help Raise the Dead

    Deadraiser
    Directed by Johnny Clark (October 04, 2013)

     

    Evangelical Christians want access to more corpses … to hone their ‘raising the dead’ skills

    Barry Duke, The Freethinker (March 10, 2014)

     

    The people who believe in medical miracles
    BBC News Magazine (March 10, 2014)

     

    What is Grave Sucking?
    Michael Boehm, Youth Apologetics Training (February 12, 2014)
    Helping teens understand and defend Christianity. Helping parents train up their young in the faith.

    Last February and March I started collecting information on Evangelical Christian groups that believe in the power of prayer to resurrect the dead. It’s not an entirely new idea for Christianity (e.g. Jesus) but its supporters have ebbed and flowed over the centuries.

    One of the new groups that’s involved is called the Dead Raising Team.

    Filmmaker Johnny Clark made a documentary about the Dead Raising Team and you can watch the doc’s trailer at the top of the page.

    Slightly before I came across the Dead Raising Team, I encountered a somewhat connected but different practice called Grave Sucking. Michael Boehm, writing for the pro-Christian Youth Apologetics blog, explains that:

    Grave sucking or mantle grabbing is the belief and practice of pulling the supposed Holy Spirit powers from the dead bones of a previously empowered believer.

    Not much else to say, really.

    It’s worth noting, I think, that Boehm doesn’t support Grave Sucking and thinks that it’s, um, impractical.

    Then again, ‘miracles’ do happen. Just last February a man was declared dead in Mississippi only to wake up inside a body bag. This could also be a case of a less-than-rigorous end of life medical exam.

    Deadraiser Directed by Johnny Clark (October 04, 2013)   Evangelical Christians want access to more corpses … to hone their ‘raising the dead’ skills Barry…

  • Day 20: Patrick Stewart Campaigns with Assisted Dying Supporters

    Actor Patrick Stewart joins campaign for ‘assisted dying’
    BBC News (July 18, 2014)

    Somehow, and I don’t entirely know the reasons, I completely missed these interviews with actor Patrick Stewart on the recent House of Lords assisted dying debate.

    He’s got clearly articulated personal reasons for supporting Lord Falconer’s bill and understands how the proposed legislation would work. I also give him credit for supporting a cause that I can imagine some talent agents might suggest you avoid.

    That said, he’s the kind of actor (and big name movie star) who doesn’t flinch when it comes to supporting causes he believes in.

    Good interviews to watch.

    Actor Patrick Stewart joins campaign for ‘assisted dying’ BBC News (July 18, 2014) Somehow, and I don’t entirely know the reasons, I completely missed these…

  • Day 19: Digital Death Bill Marches Onward

    Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act Approved
    A new act approved today by a national law group provides comprehensive provisions governing access to digital assets. The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) was approved by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) at its 123rd Annual Meeting in Seattle
    Uniform Law Commission Press Release (July 16, 2014)

    The Death Reference Desk has been so busy this week with all things assisted dying that we missed an important development in the digital death world.

    Earlier this week, the Uniform Law Commission approved a new model law that allows access to digital assets, i.e., photos, documents, social media accounts, etc., by a person other than the original owner if an executor is named.

    The ULC develops proposed legislation for potential use by all 50 US States. This particular bill is important for anyone thinking about who or whom will have access to your digital files, assets, properties, e-mails, photos, etc., after you die.

    We’ve only got the press release to work from right now, which isn’t ideal, but there will more to come about the ULC’s approval.

    The approved bill is summed up this way:

    In the modern world, digital assets have largely replaced tangible ones. Documents are stored in electronic files rather than in file cabinets. Photographs are uploaded to web sites rather than printed on paper. However, the laws governing fiduciary access to these digital assets are in need of an update.

     

    The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act [UFADAA] solves the problem using the concept of “media neutrality.” If a fiduciary would have access to a tangible asset, that fiduciary will also have access to a similar type of digital asset. UFADAA governs four common types of fiduciaries: personal representatives of a deceased person’s estate; guardians or conservators of a protected person’s estate; agents under a power of attorney; and trustees.

    But don’t worry, if you want to hide embarrassing e-mail messages or make sure that no one knows about your online shenanigans (we’re not judging) then this proposed legislation covers those situations too.

    Just remember: if you don’t want the kids to know about it, then don’t do it online.

    You can read the bill here.

    Unless, of course, we’re all just living in a digital simulation.

    Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act Approved A new act approved today by a national law group provides comprehensive provisions governing access to digital…

  • Day 16: UK Prime Minister David Cameron Answers Assisted Dying Question

    David Cameron ‘not convinced’ over assisted dying bill
    PM speaks of worry about legalising euthanasia, but says he would be very happy for Commons to debate issue
    Rowena Mason and Agencies, The Guardian (July 16, 2014)

    Today saw another interesting development in the lead up to Friday’s debate on assisted dying in the UK’s House of Lords.

    Prime Minister David Cameron was asked about the upcoming debate during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). The Prime Minister is asked everything and anything by members of parliament during the PMQs and, in theory, has to quickly formulate some kind of response.

    His answer to the assisted dying question was intriguing. He made it clear that he thought the debate should move forward but that he personally didn’t support a change to the law.

    He used the word ‘euthanasia’ in his response, which is a key word choice. The House of Lords is debating an assisted dying law, not a euthanasia law. Assisted dying laws usually mean a person is given a lethal dose of a drug and then that person has to physically administer and ingest the drug in order to die. Euthanasia occurs when one person puts another person to death, i.e., person A injects person B with a drug so that person B will die.

    The words make a significant legal difference for any kind of death with dignity law.

    You can watch video of the entire (relatively short) exchange starting at 28:20.

    I also suggest watching the faces and reactions of the other MPs. It seems that right now many MPs would rather debate anything other than a law on assisted dying. This could change after Friday.

    David Cameron ‘not convinced’ over assisted dying bill PM speaks of worry about legalising euthanasia, but says he would be very happy for Commons to…

  • Day 11: Planet of the Apes Grieving for Their Ape Kind Dead

    Want to Understand Mortality? Look to the Chimps
    Maggie Koerth-Baker, New York Times Magazine (June 25, 2013)

    Today is the release date for the new Planet of the Apes movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

    We’ll set aside all the timeline problems and alternative universes this specific reboot created. And no one should ever speak again of Tim Burton’s terrible remake.

    What everyone should be discussing is how apes grieve for their dead. The New York Times Magazine ran an article in June 2013 on this topic. The Death Reference Desk has also written about Chimpanzees and grief before, in 2010 and 2009.

    You can also read more generally about animals and death here.

    Whenever we Humans start discussing our primate cousins and grieving, we run the risk of going on an anthropomorphising rampage. That said, it’s clear that our Great Ape relatives could teach us a few things about understanding mortality and the finality of time.

    Want to Understand Mortality? Look to the Chimps Maggie Koerth-Baker, New York Times Magazine (June 25, 2013) Today is the release date for the new…

  • Day 10: When People Die from Broken Hearts

    Can You Die From a Broken Heart?
    What happens to our bodies when the bonds of love are breached.
    Kirsten Weir, Nautilus (July 10, 2014)

    Death by broken heart. It’s the worst.

    I wish I knew how to quit you!

    We also recommend checking out Nautilus, which is good Science and Culture publication.

    Can You Die From a Broken Heart? What happens to our bodies when the bonds of love are breached. Kirsten Weir, Nautilus (July 10, 2014)…

  • Day 8: Hot Dog Eating Contests Can Kill You (in South Dakota)

    South Dakota man dies after choking during hot-dog eating contest
    Walter Eagle Tail, 47, died at a hospital on Thursday after attempts to save him at the scene failed, police said
    Associated Press (July 8, 2014)

    I was writing a verbose and longish post about radical life extension today but then this story about a man dying during a hot dog eating contest popped up and, well, living to 500 can wait.

    I’m inclined to say that this is a mid-year entry into the annual Darwin Awards but it sounds like the gentleman who died was a decent guy. He just had some bad luck.

    Out of curiosity, I started poking around the internet to see what kind of safety warnings accompanied eating contests and, lo, I was not disappointed. This WebMD article, helpfully titled Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?, covers all the bases. Then this Time article called Here’s What Competitive Eating Does to Your Body really goes in-depth on what these contests do to your innards and made me never want to eat food again.

    And while this specific story is certainly tragic, it did remind me of the hot dog eating scene in the movie Meatballs.

    South Dakota man dies after choking during hot-dog eating contest Walter Eagle Tail, 47, died at a hospital on Thursday after attempts to save him…

  • Day 5: Choosing a Sci-Fi or Fantasy Book Reading for Your Funeral

    Which Science Fiction Or Fantasy Book Do You Want Read At Your Funeral?
    Charlie Jane Anders, io9 (July 4, 2014)

    The io9 blog and news site (motto: We Come from the Future) is a reliable and entertaining source for science fiction, fantasy, technology, and scientific research information.

    Every once in a while, a death related question or story pops up. A lot of the articles focus on radical life extension, which is to be expected.

    The most recent death listing was different enough that I decided to feature it today on Death Ref.

    Charlie Jane Anders asks a straight-forward but really intriguing question: Which Science Fiction or Fantasy book do you want read at your funeral? I’ll add in Memorial Service in case you don’t have a standard funeral.

    Since my early teen years, the introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was something I wanted read at my funeral. In case you’re wondering, I really did think about these kinds of questions when I 13. I was a walking Judy Blume character.

    After thinking more about different options, I came back to a perennial death soliloquy favourite. The problem, however, is that it’s in a film. I’m cheating. I admit it.

    The final monologue by Rutger Hauer’s character Roy Batty in Blade Runner always lingers in my brain whenever I think about dying with dignity and grace. Blade Runner is of course based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but Roy Batty’s final bit of dialogue was improvised by Rutger Hauer.

    Talk about sticking the landing.

    You can post your responses on the io9 page or, actually, here in the Death Ref comments section. I will send the requests over to io9.

    Which Science Fiction Or Fantasy Book Do You Want Read At Your Funeral? Charlie Jane Anders, io9 (July 4, 2014) The io9 blog and news…

  • 31 Days of Death: Happy Fifth Birthday Death Reference Desk

    Five years.

    It was five years ago this summer that Kim Anderson, Meg Holle, and I (John Troyer) started the Death Reference Desk.

    And to celebrate this major achievement (in internet years) we present the fancy new Death Reference Desk website!

    In case anyone doubts our origins, here is the almost-very-first post by Meg on June 07, 2009 about funeral business stories on the This American Life radio programme:

    TAL: Business of Death

    The very very first post also occurred on June 07, 2009 but the links in the post are all broken and dead. Remember– five years(!) is a long time for the interwebs.

    None of us had any idea that we would make it to year five. Indeed, this entire adventure started as a series of e-mail messages that Kim and I exchanged about wanting to start some kind of new website to discuss death, dying, and the dead body but in an interesting and compelling way that didn’t automatically revert to wacky funerals and lame puns.

    Very quickly, however, Kim and I realised that we didn’t know anything about creating anything online so I e-mailed Meg who did and who also studied death. She said sure.

    And that, dear Death Reference Desk friends, is how we made it to five years.

    Sure sure we’ve had our collective ups and downs. Each of us has moved, loved, lost, laboured, felt guilty and then not guilty about not posting enough on the website. It’s just so easy (SO EASY) to use Facebook and Twitter….

    Oddly enough, the three of use have never actually been together in the same room at the same time during the last five years. Not once. But the internet being the internet and death being death, it didn’t really matter.

    Most disastrously for Death Ref, I unwittingly developed some naughty web posting habits that really irked Google and suddenly in 2012 ye olde Death Reference Desk stopped showing up in search results.

    Thankfully Meg has swooped in and is fixing those issues while we continue to revamp and play with our fresh and minty new website.

    We heart you Google!

    In order to celebrate both the new website design and our first five years I am going to try something that I have always wanted to do with the Death Reference Desk.

    For the next 31 Days, I will post at least one news story, thought, image, or idea each day on the website to demonstrate a key part of my own Centre for Death and Society research: we Humans are surrounded by death every single day. Not a day goes by where we don’t see/hear/smell something about death.

    I will also use these 31 Days to flag up some of my favourite previous Death Reference Desk posts and try some other content ideas that I’ve never gotten to.

    It’s important, I think, to challenge the conventional wisdom that describes death as a taboo and socially repressed topic. If Death Ref has demonstrated anything, it’s that both of these ideas are incorrect.

    Museum of Morbid Anatomy

    The next 31 Days will also be used for my own shameless self-promotion as I prepare to be the Morbid Anatomy Museum’s Scholar in Residence during the month of August. I will be giving a series of lectures, curating film screenings, and running field trips during the Residency.

    The Morbid Anatomy Museum, as many of you may know, is in Brooklyn, New York and I already know how jealous everyone will be that I get to spend AUGUST in NEW YORK. I am already predicting daily experiences with aromatic summertime organic flesh decomposition.

    A final big thanks to all of the Death Reference Desk’s readers. We’ve gotten many amazing (and, um, sometimes slightly creepy) e-mail messages over the years and we love it. All of it. All of you.

    Especially from all of those kids writing High School or College essays on death who found Death Ref while pulling an all nighter and realised that Meg, Kim, and I saved them from complete and total failure.

    We got your backs kids.

    Onwards to the next five years.

    Yours in Death.

    — John, Kim, and Meg

    Five years. It was five years ago this summer that Kim Anderson, Meg Holle, and I (John Troyer) started the Death Reference Desk. And to…

  • Grave Matters… Muahahahaha!

    Grave Matters (podcast)
    BackStory, with the American History Guys (May 23, 2014)

    This week the genius history podcast BackStory rebroadcasted their show “Grave Matters” in honor of Memorial Day.

    Did you know that the term “funeral parlors” was a marketing riff on the Victorian parlor room of the home, the inevitable site of the wake and funeral? To kick the dour image of death, the parlor eventually morphed into the “living” room. BOOM!

    Do check it out. Always informative and entertaining, BackStory is one my (Meg’s) favorite podcasts.

    Grave Matters (podcast) BackStory, with the American History Guys (May 23, 2014) This week the genius history podcast BackStory rebroadcasted their show “Grave Matters” in…

  • Radiolab: Am I Going To Die This Year? A Mathematical Puzzle

    Am I Going To Die This Year? A Mathematical Puzzle
    Robert Krulwich, Radiolab (January 08, 2014)

    Radiolab co-host, Robert Krulwich, posted a fascinating piece on a mathematical approach to determining when a person might die. Krulwich explains how he first picked up this topic:

    A few years ago, physicist Brian Skinner asked himself: What are the odds I will die in the next year? He was 25. What got him wondering about this, I have no idea, but, hey, it’s something everybody asks. When I can’t wedge my dental floss between my two front teeth, I ask it, too. So Brian looked up the answer — there are tables for this kind of thing — and what he discovered is interesting. Very interesting. Even mysterious.

    It turns out that a fascinating 8-year rule emerges for most human lifespans. I will let you read all about it.

    Tick-Tock goes the clock.

    And welcome to 2014.

    Skull Clock

    Am I Going To Die This Year? A Mathematical Puzzle Robert Krulwich, Radiolab (January 08, 2014) Radiolab co-host, Robert Krulwich, posted a fascinating piece on…