Death + the Law Death Ethics

Breaking News: People REALLY DO Want to Discuss Death and Dying with Doctors

Coverage for End-of-Life Talks Gaining Ground
Pam Belluck, The New York Times (August 31, 2014)
Medicare may cover advance care planning that was once decried as “death panels,” and some private insurers are not waiting for the political process.

Maybe I’m being a bit unfair to the New York Times with this post’s title. It’s a good article. I recommend reading it.

That said, it should come as no surprise that patients, doctors, and even insurance companies (i.e., The MAN) want people to discuss end-of-life planning.

Most importantly, if people would momentarily stop saying that death is a taboo and that it’s a subject that nobody wants to discuss then it might actually encourage more of these end-of-life planning conversations.

Death + Biology Death + Technology Death Ethics

Day 30: Bringing the Dead Back to (Some Kind of) Life

9 Things to Know About Reviving the Recently Dead
Greg Miller, Wired Magazine (July 30, 2014)

Great article in today’s Wired about research by Dr. David Casarett on methods used to revive, resuscitate, and bring back the dead. Casarett’s work is in his new book called Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead.

Interestingly, Greg Miller at Wired notes that:

Casarett is enthusiastic about the emerging technologies that are allowing doctors to save patients who would have been a lost cause in the very recent past. But these technologies come at a cost, he writes. They may restore life, but whether it’s a life worth living is another matter.

And while Casarett originally became a Doctor so that he could develop new technologies to bring back the dead, he’s now working in hospice and palliative care.

Sometimes staying dead is better than the ‘life’ a resuscitated person experiences.

The Death Reference Desk has featured a series of stories on the ins and outs of Do Not Resuscitate orders. And DNR tattoos. You can find those posts here.

Death + Biology Death + Technology Death + the Web

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

Death + the Economy Death + the Law Death Ethics

Donating Dead Bodies to Save Money

Donating Body Can Save Families Money
Dan McFeely, The Indianapolis Star (February 08, 2011)

A short post on a perennial topic for the Death Reference Desk: how the dead body is transformed into some kind of cash value. Rarely, if ever, does this postmortem value involve direct cash exchanges, mostly because the law frowns upon such things. No, these are situations where a dead body is handed over to an institution of some kind in exchange for compensation of some kind.

So, as this article discusses, families donate a body to the Indiana University Medical School and in exchange for their donation receive significantly reduced if not totally free funeral services. More often than not, this means that the cremation of the remains (post dismemberment, more or less, by medical students) is covered by the institution receiving the body.

Most American medical schools accept cadaver donations and gladly thank the next-of-kin with a non-cash gift of some kind. It’s true that even though money isn’t being exchanged there is still a quid pro quo involved…but not too many people that participate in any of this complain.

The bigger question to ask is this: What happens when medical schools, for example, start paying families with cold, hard cash for a dead body? The historians amongst you will already be thinking about Burke and Hare in Scotland, and that’s the historical example that usually scuttles these kinds of questions.

But I’m not so sure, given the economic conditions which many people currently face, that it won’t come to pass.

We’ve been adding story after story about these kinds of dead body transactions and you can see them all here: Death + the Economy.
Never say never…especially when dead bodies are involved.

Death + Technology

Seattle Librarians Tackle Mummy Eating

Guanajuato Mummy Hand, by Tomascastelazo

The Seattle Public Library “Shelf Talk” blog posts questions of the month, answered by their reference librarians. March’s curiosity happens to deal with death: the ancient practice of munching on ground up mummies for their alleged curative powers.

See what they have to say!

(Thanks to librarian/archivist friend of DeathRef @leahpearse for passing this along!)