Monday, December 29, 2008

When Editors Write Obituaries

Another nice column from Elizabeth Lardie at Lemondrop in which she explores her reluctance over writing obituaries for people she does not know:

"I really don't think obituaries should ever be written by some no-name editor with a lot of deadlines and little life perspective. ... Because of this cookie-cutter process, obituaries start sounding like postmortem personal ads to me. "He was romantic, honest and loved eating out. In his spare time, he enjoyed taking long walks on the beach."

When my grandfather passed away, my family and I wrote his obituary. Has anyone had an experience with an obituary of a loved one being written by a paper's editor and not their actual family? I'd be curious to hear what it's like from the other side.

NPR Tribute to Eartha Kitt

NPR has posted an audio link to a 1993 piano jazz session with Eartha Kitt—the woman Orson Welles once called the most exciting woman in the world.

If you don't know Kitt apart from her role as catwoman on the old Batman TV show, you should check out the clip. She is graceful, classy, vivacious and full of life.

And, of course, it doesn't hurt that she was sexy as hell and approached life with great humor.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Televised Assisted Suicide in the U.S.


In the comments below, Dethmama asks whether assisted suicide has ever been televised in the U.S., as they have just done in Britain.

This is by no means a comprehensive answer, but I was reminded of 60 Minutes' interview with Dr. Jack Kevorkian from 1998, during which they televised the euthanasia of a man with Lou Gehrig's disease. (It was an actual euthanasia; Dr. Kevorkian was responsible for the act of death.) 

The interview was what led to Kevorkian's imprisonment for second-degree murder. He served about nine years of a 10–25 year sentence. 

I can't find the actual clip of the first interview, but I found this clip from a follow-up interview that shows most of the original piece within it. However, CBS' site won't let me embed it, so you'll have to follow the link to view. 

There are some marked differences between the U.S. piece and the British piece:

*First, the U.S. piece is as much about Kevorkian as it is about assisted suicide. 

*Second, I'm really struck by how the British piece gives the dying man a voice. And I realize someone with advanced Lou Gehrig's disease cannot speak well ... but there are other things that could be done—talking more to family, photos of his past, stories, etc. 

*Third, the British piece showed us an assisted suicide done through legal channels, so we are well positioned to confront the issue. The shock value of breaking the law, doing things behind closed doors, with shady methodology, all of that is gone. Dr. Kevorkian lost his medical license in 1991. Thus, he didn't have access to the usual cocktail of barbituates used for assisted suicide. What we see in the U.S. piece are his makeshift means. In the British piece, the man's death feels peaceful; he says goodbye to his wife. I see a death with dignity. In the U.S. piece, I see a more haphazard way of ending suffering. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Today Show on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The Today Show had a segment this morning on the importance of keeping up-to-date carbon monoxide detectors in your home. As you would expect, the story began with the tale of a family who almost died due to carbon monoxide ... luckily they realized something was wrong and called 911 when they all came down with the same dramatic symptoms at the same time.



I don't want to minimize the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Obviously, having a detector in your home is not a bad idea. And it's a terrible, avoidable tragedy if anyone dies by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

I'd just like to point out—I can't remember the last time I saw a major news show do a segment on the importance of keeping smoke detectors up-to-date. And according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year, accidental carbon monoxide poisoning kills 170 people, on average. In contrast, in 2006, fire claimed the lives of 2,580 people—that according to the Center for Disease Control.

This all reminds me of Amanda Ripley's book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, which I blogged about earlier this year. She came up with an equation about what elicits fear:

Dread = Uncontrollability + Unfamiliarity + Imaginability + Suffering + Scale of Destruction + Unfairness

Both fire and carbon monoxide poisoning rank fairly high on this scale, but the carbon monoxide poisoning is especially potent. If you watch the NBC clip, you can imagine being the family, sleeping at home, and not even knowing a "silent killer" is attacking. The scale of destruction is low, but the suffering is high, it's unfamiliar to many of us, and it's certainly uncontrollable in many ways—that sense heightened by the fact that carbon monoxide is tasteless, odorless, and invisible. And with something like a poisonous gas that randomly seeps into the air, fairness doesn't even come into play. It gets pretty high marks on the fear scale.

What? A TV show using fear to hook in viewers? You're shocked, I know.

Anyway, get a carbon monoxide detector if you want. But if you're concerned about utility, check your smoke detector batteries first.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Assisted Suicide in Britain

Controversy has flared up over assisted suicide in Britain this past week.

This catalyst was a televised assisted suicide—the suicide of Craig Ewert who was 59 and suffering from motor neuron disease.




Ewert took a fatal dose of barbiturates in a Zurich clinic in 2006, although the documentary covering his decision and final act was first shown just last week.

Assisted suicide is illegal in Britain. According to the NY Times, about 100 Britons have committed assisted suicide in the past decade or so—by traveling to Switzerland or other locations where assisted suicide is legal.

I'm really glad the show aired. You all know I support death with dignity and assisted suicide, but beyond that, even for people who are against this movement, discussions like this get us all thinking and talking about death. And the more it comes into the open, the less alien it becomes. And I hope, the less frightening it becomes.

Ewert's wife was quoted in the New York Times saying, “For Craig, my husband, allowing the cameras to film his last moments in Zurich was about facing the end honestly,” she wrote in The Independent, a British newspaper. “He was keen to have it shown because when death is hidden and private, people don’t face their fears about it.”

My thoughts exactly.

Monday, December 15, 2008

NEJM Piece on Death with Dignity

From the New England Journal of Medicine, a nice overview piece on the passage of the Death with Dignity Act in Washington state, how it compares to the law in Oregon, what the two laws have meant for palliative care, and what they might mean for the future of palliative care.

It's a lot to cover in such a short article, but Dr. Robert Steinbrook offers a succinct and logical take on the controversies and goings-on.

One interesting point: due to legal challenges, Oregon law makers and health workers had about three years to figure out how to implement their version of the law, while Washington state will only have four months. How will this change the shape of care?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fear-based warnings don't stop smokers


A fascinating op-ed piece from today's New York Times.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Martin Lindstrom conducted a study that involved showing subjects warnings on cigarette packages from overseas. While U.S. packages have statements about the ill effects of smoking, many cigarette cartons overseas actually depict images of lung tumors caused by smoking, and other such graphic images.

MRI technology allows researchers to tell what parts of the brain receive oxygen, and hence, what part of the brain are in use. Lindstrom was looking to see if the warnings activated the amygdala—the part of the brain that registers alarm.

The images did not affect the amygdala. Instead, they affected the nucleus accumbens—the part of the brain that turns on when a person craves something.

So, it appears from this study, the warnings are having the exact opposite of the effect intended, and instead of savings lives, may actually be helping lead to preventable deaths through smoking.

It's a small study (only 32 people), but still, the results are startling and deserve follow-up with further research. If the trend continues, it looks like the Attorney General's office needs to change the way they approach policy on cigarette warnings.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heath Ledger Nominated for Golden Globe


Batman: The Dark Knight, which made huge sales at the box office, is once again making huge sales in DVD. And today, Heath Ledger has been nominated for a posthumous Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the Joker.

Ledger gave a tremendous performance as Joker. It was externally loud and outward, but at the same time, he portrayed a character with an intense, seething inner life. He showed a man whose psyche was rotting away to such a degree that he had lost all sense of right/wrong and societal norms. Yes, it was a comic book character, but you bought how this being could have been born out of a real-life scenario.

Now, I do have to admit, there is extra value added because it's the last great role Heath Ledger will ever put down on screen. The finality of it all is enticing. I think he might have one more film left in post-production? But for the most part, Ledger's work is over, and that casts a haunting resonance this piece. How do we separate that from evaluating the work?

I don't think we can. And maybe it shouldn't matter.

As I said when he died and people were flocking to see the film in the theaters, there's a sense of public grieving that comes from appreciating this role. And I'm a huge fan of public grieving. It's cathartic and healing and doesn't happen often enough. There's no doubt it's a quality performance, and I don't see anything wrong with Ledger getting every possible recognition for his performance as Joker, even if part of the reason is the fact of his death.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dead People Get Sexy—Wait, isn't that necrophilia?

This week, MSNBC tells us about a new trend, plastic surgery after death.

For years, I operated under the belief that we were all making ourselves beautiful in order to be more attractive to the opposite sex so that we might project the impression that we could be strong, healthy breeding partners. (I realize I'm making grand, sweeping generalizations here.) What does it say that some of us feel the need to project our sexuality and attractiveness of our deceased physical form?

Some of the procedures specifically mentioned in the piece are Botox to minimize wrinkles, and breast augmentations.

I can't get past the idea that this is taking wanting to look good to an absurd degree. I hate to sound like a hypocrite. After all, I do advocate for everyone having the death they find ideal ... but worrying about fewer wrinkles and perky breasts post-mortem seems ridiculous.

Understand belief in afterlife, sad to see preoccupation with physical afterlife. Plus, this isn't just thinking about afterlife, this trend seem based on the assumption that consciousness of your physical form will continue to some degree after death.

But what do you think?

The Mom and Me Journals dot Net

The Mom and Me Journals dot Net is a blog dedicated to one woman's adventures as a companion to her mother, who happens to have dementia and lung cancer.

The blog is honest and informative about the dying process—not to mention about the mother-daughter relationship. It's a site we all could learn from.

The author's mother just passed away, and the most recent entry is about the death.

I highly recommend the site, and the post.

Fantastic Death


I'm reading a new novel by Jonathan Carroll called The Ghost in Love that deals with the aftermath of a man not dying when he should, in a fantastical way. A representative of the angel of death is left in limbo, hanging out on Earth, waiting for him to die. In the meantime, this ghost in limbo falls in love with the man's ex-girlfriend, hence the title of the book. I've just started the novel, but so far, it is full of humor and the most beautiful, non-saccharine sentimentality.

Here's an excerpt that I particularly like:
"She fell in love easily but walked away just as easily from a relationship when it went bad. Some men—and there had been many of them—thought this showed she was coldhearted, but they were wrong. German Landis simply didn't understand people who moped. Life was too interesting to choose suffering. Although she got a big kick out of him, she thought her brother Guy, was goofy for spending his life writing songs only about things that either stank or sucked. In response, he drew a pictue of what her gravestone would look like if he designed it: a big yellow smiley face on it and the words I LIKE BEING DEAD!
Little did either of them know that she would like it when her time came to die, years later. German Landis would move into death as she'd moved into new schoos, relationships, or phases of her life: full speed ahead, hopes ahoy, heart filled like a sail with reasonalbe optimism and belief that the gods were fundamentally benevolent, no mater where she was."

I love the notion that Carroll is presenting here that personality and attitude in life can carry over in to the way a person moves into death. It makes for a fun, life-affirming—and death-affirming for that matter—narrative.

Alan Cheuse gave a poignant review of this novel, and nobel winner Jose Saramago's novel Death with Interruptions, which has recently been tranlated into English. That book is also on my list or to-reads.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Advanced Dog Obedience Graduation



Just to lighten the mood a bit, I thought I'd share a couple of photos from doggy obedience class. My border terrier, Banner, had graduation from advanced obedience last night. The big finale was getting all of the dogs lined up in a row, very close together, all in down stays. Much easier said than done :) If you don't know what a border terrier is, he's the small, scruffy, black and brown one.

"Time is very compressed during an execution."

Part three of KUOW's series on the state of execution examines the mechanics of execution.

Fair warning, this piece is highly informative but not always easy to listen to due to its graphic nature.

In Washington state, there are two options: hanging and lethal injection. Fascinatingly, reporter Patricia Murphy draws out some of the ethical issues involved.

The state divides the tasks into as many parts as possible so no one worker feels responsible for the execution. Also, in the case of lethal injection, three shots are given: The second is a paralytic; this makes the execution aesthetically peaceful for those watching, but from blood work done in autopsy, there is evidence that those executed feel pain even though they cannot move or communicate it in any way.

Like I said, not an easy listen, but full of good information if you're up for it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Another Reason to Hate Wal-Mart


A Reuters story on the aftermath of the Black Friday, in-store death.

A Wal-Mart statement had this to say:

"Tomorrow morning we will release our sales numbers for the month of November," the statement said. "This event is overshadowed by the tragic death of Jdimytai Damour at our Valley Stream, New York store on Nov. 28."

Too bad the death is overshadowing the release of their November sales figures. Nice of them to put things in perspective.

A Sacrifice to the American Religion of Shopping

Poet Andrei Codrescu offered this commentary on NPR's All Things Considered last night about the death of a Wal-Mart employee who was stampeded by a crowd of shoppers, anxious to get into the store for super savings on Black Friday.

I'm a pretty analytical girl ... which makes me so glad for people like Codrescu, who have poetic minds. Codrescu calls the death a sacrifice to the American religion of shopping.

"And so we went shopping! We so went shopping, in rumbling herdlike elephant masses, we killed a guy who didn't get out of the way fast enough. It's a tragic incident, but by no means meaningless. Shopping is a religion, and some religions demand sacrifices.

The Wal-Mart employee died for us on Black Friday, but have we stopped to think what his sacrifice means? Not at all: We're stampeding right on through to the other side of Christmas. We aren't just shopping: We are saving America."

I'm sure a lot of the more thoughtful of us already have done this, but maybe we should all stop for a minute and think about what his death means.

Arbitrary Nature of Death Penalty

Part two of KUOW's series on the death penalty in Washington state examines the legal complications of Washington's "volunteer" death penalty—meaning instead of certain crimes requiring mandatory pursuit of death penalty, it is up to the discretion of each individual elected prosecutor in the county in which a crime was committed.

With 39 counties in the state and 39 individual county prosecutors, the situation leads to all sorts of comparisons and questions about the arbitrary nature of the death penalty. For example, why is Darold Stenson likely to be executed while Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, will serve life in prison. (One explanation: Ridgeway bargained for life by giving information about the location of the bodies of his victims who had not yet been found.)

If yesterday's piece was noteworthy for its compassion, today's piece is an equally adept look at the fallability of a system that must necessarily be administered by a collection of individual people.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

U.S. Life Expectancy—Not as Good as it Should Be

From The Today Show ... the U.S. lags behind 27 other developed nations in terms of life expectancy, according to the annual report from the United Health Foundation. Dr. Nancy Snyderman credits it to obesity, smoking, and lack of health insurance.

According to the same study, we spend more money on health care than most of the nations that outrank us in terms of life expectancy. So where's the disconnect?

One popular theory, and one Dr. Snyderman hints at in the piece, is that America spends a lot of money on heroic measures, using expensive new equipment and experimental procedures, more often than just focusing on preventive medicine.

Another theory is that we spend too much on the last years of life, putting too many health-care dollars into prolonging life by a few months or years with dramatic, expensive effort, rather than keeping ourselves healthier while younger.



You can go here to see the original study results and a state-by-state ranking.

The State of Execution

The first part in KUOW's special series on execution in Washington state is finally up on their website today.

Two things: 1) I guess they postponed the series until December 3rd from the original air date of December 1st because of the stay of execution. I did not hear this postponement advertised, if it was. 2) Even though they advertised it as being part of Morning Edition, it is actually produced by the local NPR affiliate KUOW. Sorry for any confusion I caused by passing on their misleading information.

Logistical snafus aside, it's a good piece on the stress families of victims go through when a death penalty case comes up in the courts.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Death with Dignity—Not a Trend

I must apologize for being a couple of weeks late catching this editorial. ...

It's from The Oregonian, and it argues that Washington State's recently passed Death with Dignity Act is not simply another fluke, like Oregon's, but the beginning of a larger national trend.

The author, Don Colburn, points out that the Death with Dignity Act captured 59% of the vote and won 33 of 39 counties in Washington. That means, it didn't fall into the typical, Seattle and other big cities vs. eastern Washington and other more rural areas—a fairly typical liberal/conservative divide in this state. The initiative also outdid our Democratic governor, who won reelection. And it outdid Obama, who won the state.

So yes, Washington state can be fairly progressive and fairly liberal, but Colburn shows us that it's not just progressive liberals supporting Death with Dignity. Compassion and Choices has mentioned many times their desire to spread this work to other parts of the country. We just have to keep pushing the dialogue forward.

Execution in Washington State Cancelled

Washington's corrections department has cancelled the scheduled execution of Darold Stenson, and a new date will not be scheduled for at least 90 days.

Patricia Murphy from KUOW, Seattle's local NPR affiliate, gives a really understandable, comprehensive analysis of what happened in the case in an audio clip at this link. The clip is from a week ago so does not go into all of the twists and turns, but it will fill you in more fully than any newspaper story I've read on this issue so far.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Engage with Grace


The following post is part of a project put on by The Health Care Blog and Running a Hospital. They are asking folks to download a slide with five questions about end-of-life care ... and then share those questions with family, coworkers, friends, anyone with whom they feel comfortable starting a conversation about death.

You'll see as you read the post, it's right in line with the themes of this blog. Please let me know if you participate. And I'll be sure to report back if I do. Thanks!

"We make choices throughout our lives - where we want to live, what types of activities will fill our days, with whom we spend our time. These choices are often a balance between our desires and our means, but at the end of the day, they are decisions made with intent. But when it comes to how we want to be treated at the end our lives, often we don't express our intent or tell our loved ones about it.

This has real consequences. 73% of Americans would prefer to die at home, but up to 50% die in hospital. More than 80% of Californians say their loved ones “know exactly” or have a “good idea” of what their wishes would be if they were in a persistent coma, but only 50% say they've talked to them about their preferences.

But our end of life experiences are about a lot more than statistics. They’re about all of us. So the first thing we need to do is start talking.

Engage With Grace: The One Slide Project was designed with one simple goal: to help get the conversation about end of life experience started. The idea is simple: Create a tool to help get
people talking. One Slide, with just five questions on it. Five questions designed to help get us talking with each other, with our loved ones, about our preferences. And we’re asking people to
share this One Slide – wherever and whenever they can…at a presentation, at dinner, at their book club. Just One Slide, just five questions.

Lets start a global discussion that, until now, most of us haven’t had.

Here is what we are asking you: Download The One Slide and share it at any opportunity – with colleagues, family, friends. Think of the slide as currency and donate just two minutes whenever you can. Commit to being able to answer these five questions about end of life experience for yourself, and for your loved ones. Then commit to helping others do the same. Get this conversation started.

Let's start a viral movement driven by the change we as individuals can effect...and the incredibly positive impact we could have collectively. Help ensure that all of us - and the people we care for - can end our lives in the same purposeful way we live them.

Just One Slide, just one goal. Think of the enormous difference we can make together.

(To learn more please go to www.engagewithgrace.org. This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team)"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Macy's Parade Rickrolled

They got Rickrolled!

Happy Thanksgiving!




Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quick Update on Execution Stay

Washington state's motion to overturn the stay of execution has been denied by the U.S. Federal 9th Court of Appeals. Some details are here. Link

More on Death Penalty

When a controversial issue like the death penalty (or physician assisted suicide) makes big headlines, even though I'm usually partial to one side, I like to use this space to provide reasoned arguments for both sides. That way, I hope we can have the healthiest discussion possible about what are really difficult issues.

Since I'm not in a frame of mind to do my own intensive thinking on this subject (wisdom teeth extraction, blech), I thought I'd share some good resources I've found on the web.

This page posts some great questions to consider when thinking about the death penalty, all boiling down to, what is the purpose of instituting the death penalty:

--Is the purpose of the death penalty to remove from society someone who would cause more harm?

-- Is the purpose to remove from society someone who is incapable of rehabilitation?

-- Is the purpose of the death penalty to deter others from committing murder?

-- Is the purpose of the death penalty to punish the criminal?

-- Is the purpose of the death penalty to take retribution on behalf of the victim?

And this page, put together by a group of students at The University of Texas at Austin, seems to offer a good overview of pro and con arguments. Definitely worth looking over.

Stay of Execution in Washington State

Darold Stenson, the man who was/is slated to be executed in Washington state on December 3rd has been granted a stay of execution by federal courts in Yakima County and in the Clallam County Superior Court. (Those are authorities within Washington state.)

Apparently the stay is based on the fact that, last month, Washington state changed its procedures for administering lethal injections, without going through a formal announcent of changes and without going through the typical rule-changing process. (Although, you have to forgive me here, I just had my wisdom teeth out, this is all slightly complicated, and my head is a little foggy with pain meds.)

Rob McKenna, Washington state's attorney general, is working on an appeal of the decision. Here's a link from McKenna's website where they outline the history of the case and just what is happening now. (Thank goodness for other resources when I'm not at 100%.)

If McKenna's appeal is successful, my understanding is that it would undue the stay of execution and Stenson could still be executed on the 3rd. On the other hand, Stenson's execution could alternately be postponed indefinitely.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Death Penalty—Washington State's First Execution Since 2001

Washington state is preparing to execute a death-row prisoner for the first time since 2001. If all proceedes as planned, the execution will take place on December 3rd.

Today's episode of the radio program The Conversation discussed the issue.

The man slated to die was convicted of aggravated murder in 1993 for killing his wife, his three children, and his business partner.

I don't support the death penalty for many reasons ... but the part of me that understands it has an intellectual kinship with the argument that Joseph Campbell lays out in his mythological explications. He separates personal revenge from societal revenge.

To illustrate this point, he talks about a story of a samurai who spent his life working to avenge his father's death. The samurai finally tracks down his father's killer, after years of training and searching, and he is about to exact revenge when the man spits in his face. The samurai puts down his sword and walks away. Campbell points out that if the samurai had killed the man at that moment, it would have been personal revenge and therefore petty, instead of a more noble revenge for an unjust crime. His killing needed to be based on revenge for his father's death, not anger over having been spit on.

For Campbell, I think the death penalty works the same way. It is a process by which society can cleanse itself of great evil and seek impersonal revenge for the greatest of crimes that have been done within society and therefore to society.

Anyway, I am hoping there will be many more opportunities for dialogue on this issue as the date of execution nears. NPR's Morning Edition will feature special coverage of the death penalty next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I assume it must be connected to Washington because those dates are December 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I'll try to update as I find more information.

Friday, November 21, 2008

13-year-old girl refuses life-sustaining treatment

This post from Britannica Blogs offers commentary on the case of a 13-year-old British girl who refused a surgery that would save her life. Administrators at the hospital eventually abandoned legal action that would force the girl to undergo surgery and allowed her to die, thereby granting her wishes and allowing her to die.

Is 13 old enough to make the decision to give up on treatment and die?

Should the hospital have forced treatment on her?

The blog does not mention her parents, but I did some more research, and it looks like she has both a mother and a father actively involved with her life. I can't find information on exactly where they stand, but they must support her ability to make her own decision because there is nothing about their attempts to interfere, and one article claims the local hospital accused the parents of trying to prevent their daughter's treatment.

It's a gut-wrenching reminder of how complicated and murky medical-ethics issues can be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to Get Ahead in Advertising

Off topic ... but hysterical.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is being mourned a privilege?

A question explored by the opening story on this week's episode of This American Life. (I think it's a repeat, but nonetheless worth listening to if you haven't heard it yet.)

The story explores what happens to people who live alone and then die alone.

We follow one woman as LA county tries to track down her relatives, friends, whoever knew her, in order that they might take care of her remains and inherit her property. At the end of the story, there is audio from a mass burial in LA county for who have died alone, which the story reports many major cities have one of each year.

The reporter declares that being mourned is a privilege, meant for those who endear themselves in life. But the mass burial seems to suggest otherwise. The chaplain performing the service says:
"Honored guests, on this day, we are gathered here for the annual mass burial, committing to this earthly resting place 1,918 brothers and sisters of human kind." Would the chaplain use language like "honored guests," and "brothers and sisters of human kind" if there wasn't some attempt to memorialize and sentimentalize the existence of these people?

I understand the reporter's point. Not everyone has a big funeral with a casket, flowers, crying relatives. It doesn't always happen. But he seems to miss that even when we don't know the person, we want ceremony for death. There may not be grief, but we see to feel compelled to mourn and mark the occasion at least in some way.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Died" in Obituaries

Another succinct and poignant column by lemondrop's Elizabeth Lardie. This one deals with the practice of using the word "died" in obituaries to describe when a person passes away ... and how that sometimes sits with surviving family members. Lardie contrasts our discomfort with death terminology in actuality with the ease with each we use the word when it means nothing, e.g., "These martinis are to die for!"

Twilight Star Draws Crowds at Hot Topic Stores Across America

Hot Topic, the teenage, faux goth store, has been running a series of events across the nation with the stars of the Twilight movie. Some of the appearances include just supporting cast from the film; others feature Robert Pattinson, who plays the lead, Edward Cullen.

Most of the events featuring Pattinson have gotten out of control and quickly escalated to the point at which they became safety concerns and either had to be canceled or had to have their rules about lines/when people could begin waiting, etc., changed for the benefit of everyone there. Clearly, it's a phenomenon bigger than anything mall-chain store Hot Topic is equipped to handle.

Now, anyone who ever was a teenage girl or who has ever lived with a teenage girl knows that nothing can match the frenzy of a young woman in freakout mode over some obsession—especially if her budding hormones are involved.

But I just find this particular freekout so interesting: The movie hasn't even come out yet. This actor has done very little of note for American audiences. He played Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films, a dashing but small role. He's handsome ... but so are many young men in Hollywood. And he has received a lot of media coverage lately, but at least from what I've seen, most of it has been visual, and I've seen very few interviews with him speaking more than a few words at a time.

It seems to be based on media hype and the fact that he is the human personification of this literary character that so many young women have fallen in love with.

So what is it about this character? In many ways he is written as the perfect boy. He is supposed to be gorgeous to a fault—beautiful to draw in human prey, since he is a vampire after all. At one point in the first novel, he gets irritated at his love Bella for saying that she feels more for him than he does for her. Once he meets the girl, his life quickly becomes all about protecting and loving her.

But I also wonder, is there some allure in Edward being a dangerous vampire? Does it make life seem more important and virile that he reminds all of these teenage girls of their potential for mortality?

Whatever it is, I am starting to feel sorry for young Mr. Pattinson and the road he seems destined to travel as this object of strange, fixated obsession by people who know nothing about him.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fala!



Totally off topic ... but if you've been anywhere near me, or on the phone with me, or corresponding over email with me, over the past couple of weeks, you'll know I've been wracking my brains trying to think of the name of President Roosevelt's little Scottie dog.

All I could remember was
that the name started with an "F."

Well, I finally got smart and decided to look it up. So, for the edification of everyone I annoyed with my question, and for everyone else who likes cute, precocious dogs, here's a little Fala love :)

Roosevelt's Fala Speech:
"These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him--at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars--his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself--such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog."--Sept. 23, 1944, address to the Teamsters Union

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dennis Cooper's Jerk


Last night, I went to a performance of Dennis Cooper's Jerk: at the behest of visiting friend Shai Hulud .

Jerk tells the story of David Brooks (based on the true story), who is serving a life sentence in prison for his role in helping Dean Corll and Wayne Henley kill 27 Texas high school students.

As the play is set up, David uses puppets to re-enact his crimes. One puppet is Dean, another is Wayne, another is whichever victim he is describing, and he himself plays the puppet for himself. The puppets provide, at first, a humorous, safe way for the audience to sink into this depraved world of the serial killers. It's not long before it ceases to matter that they're puppets and the reality of their acts—torture, rape, killing—sinks in. It's a brilliant mechanism for making the difficult-to-watch behavior tolerable on the stage. (Although two people did walk out of the showing we were at.)

Cooper seems interested in getting inside the killers' heads—looking at why they want to kill. Dean is the lead agent in these killings, and he seems most motivated by understanding who his victims are—as though he has perverted his thinking and confusedly thinks that by getting literally inside them, he can get metaphorically inside them. Anyway, it involves puppets killing puppets, fisting dead puppets, making out with the lone actor on stage, etc. It's all a lot, and I'm not sure I've processed it yet.

The Seattle Times hated it :) I wouldn't want to try to summarize what this all means just hours after seeing it, but I'm pretty sure The Seattle Times' account is too literal, too simplistic, and misses the mark. Cooper isn't glamorizing the killings, or making them profound. Believe me. I don't know how you could sit through this play and get that the author was trying to tell you the killings were profound.

My pictures of the dead puppets didn't turn out, but maybe Shai Hulud will share his if they did.

1,000 Cranes—from Dethmama


Dethmama wrote a lovely post about the Japanese tradition of making 1,000 origami cranes for an ailing loved-one. (And of course, as always, her post is about so much more.)

I love this tradition. My sister's in-laws are Japanese. Last year, I had some health problems, and my Japanese relatives immediately began folding cranes for me. It's the most heart-warming feeling to have someone make cranes for you. It's so simple and sweet and genuine.

And I imagine making them helps you feel useful ... because when someone you care about is sick or hurt, you ache for something to do, some way to help. Putting together 1,000 origami cranes will keep your hands busy for a long time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Initiative 1000—Death with Dignity—Update

Officials in Olympia have begun drafting legislation for Washington state's new death with dignity law. According to The Seattle Times, they have four months to come up with the exact law ... because it goes into effect on March 4.

Ah, also, just found this. ... mynorthwest.com has an even better article with more information. Two points of note. The piece points out that any legal challenges to the law could be difficult since Oregon's law has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Also, it quotes Jennifer Hanscom, spokeswoman from the Washington State Medical Association, which opposed the initiative: "She said it will be looking closely at the initiative language to see if there's room for improvements, but 'we are not actively seeking any changes.'"

Both facts are good to hear, although I'll be surprised if implementation is not some sort of struggle, if for no other reason than Seattle and Washington state are famous for over-processing everything!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

CNN Hologram Broadcast

Paul Levinson, my grad school thesis adviser, has a theory called anthropotropism. Roughly outlined, it states that as new media develop, they mimic, more and more closely, the characteristics of the physical human body.

I was reminded of his theory looking at CNN's "hologram" technology, where reporter Jessica Yellin was reporting from Chicago but appeared to be in studio with Wolf Blitzer, in a Star Trek "Beam me up, Scottie" sort of way.


Hoorah for the advancement of technology ... . It's still a little freaky to me, but maybe that's just because my greatest childhood nightmare was this.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Death with Dignity Initiative Passes in Washington

The Seattle Times is projecting victory for Washington State's Death with Dignity Initiative, I-1000. I'm so grateful and proud of my home state. And score one for the initiative process!

This makes us only the second state in the country to pass such legislation.

If Oregon's history with the law is any indication, many legal battles are in the future for Washington's Death with Dignity legislation. But this is a big step forward. And any legal battle means more press, which means more discussion about the way we die.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Suicide: Restrict the Means, Part II


A man jumped off of Seattle's Aurora Bridge this morning shortly after rush hour, in an attempt to kill himself: The extent of his injuries are not known right now.

I'd like to re-link to this post I wrote in July about a NY Times article that discusses the effectiveness of restricting the means of suicide.

Contrary to what some people may think, for people suffering from depression, suicidal thoughts can be fleeting. Restricting their access to the means of suicide—by putting up better barriers on bridges like Seattle's Aurora Bridge—can actually dramatically cut down on the number of deaths by suicide. Studies show, people will not just go find another way to kill themselves. If thwarted, the urge may very well pass, and they will realize the folly of their thinking, and seek help. So let's put up a better barrier on the Aurora Bridge, Seattle!

And really, Seattle Times, why do you enable comments on an article about attempted suicide? You're just asking for tacky, thoughtless dribble to be written about a sensitive subject that deserves more respect.

Friday, October 31, 2008

November Poll: Can Vampires Be Highbrow?

In honor of the official Twilight freakout that is about to descend upon America, I ask a question about the "undead": vampires.

It is possible to have a highbrow work of art based on vampires? I've never read Bram Stoker's Dracula, so maybe that's the one ... but it just seems like there's something about the monster meets eroticism meets hunting human beings that lends itself to being a little tacky.

I've been struggling all week to come up with a poll question related to vampires that wasn't totally lowbrow, and finally, I decided to give up and ask you all if it's even a topic that reaches beyond the lowbrow. Again, I'm not concluding; I'm not voting; I'm just asking.

Okay, so if you're a big fan of vampire stories, don't hate me for asking this question.

I've read one of the Anne Rice books. I've read the first Twilight novel. I've seen the movie version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. And they strike me as definitely genre fiction, made more to appeal to a certain class of readers/viewers than simply to be great works on their own merit.

And I'm not against monster stories. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one of my favorite books of all time. It's beautifully written—the Gothic style, the grand questions about whether man "should" just because he "can."

So sound off. Tell me I'm crazy and wrong and just haven't read/seen the right thing.

Debunking I-1000 Ad Claims

The Seattle Times has a nice piece today debunking some of the claims made by the latest advertising pro and con Initiative 1000. Anyone who reads this blog can tell I'm a supporter of death with dignity ... but I've been a little critical of ads on both sides. I hate most political ads, and both camps in this fight have really prayed upon people's fear of death and the sadness of losing a loved one.

I'd like to see more reasoned debate like this on both sides. Today's article is a nice start, but perhaps a bit late, five days before the election.

You can watch two of the more recent ads ... and then read the article.

Pro I-1000


Con I-1000


I find the Pro ad to be a little manipulative and the Con ad to shamelessly play upon fear. I just hate the line "Suicide is a mistake you can only make once." That's one of those bumper-sticker phrases that's constructed in a way that nobody can possibly argue against. But see what you think.

A blog you must read

I've recently become aware of a wonderful blog written by dethmama, a registered nurse who takes care of hospice patients in emergency situations between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Dethmama writes: "This is the most gratifying, heart-warming, gut-wrenching and terrifying job I've ever had."

The blog is filled with no-nonsense humor, and empathy for the hospice patients. And I love, love, love the image of the hospice nurse as a comic-book superhero. I mean, if we're going to turn any profession into a superhero, is there a better one to do it with?

Dethmama is a great storyteller. Here's a link to one of my favorite entries titled "Bad Kitty and the Hospice Nurse."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

We Can't Imagine Death

One of my favorite former professors sent me this article from Scientific American in which Jesse Bering discusses the phenomenon that most of us, atheists included, have a hard time not imagining our conscious minds going on after death.

Bering points out "you" will cease to exist after death. There will be no recognition of death. You won't know you have died.

To take a reference from pop-culture, if you believe the last episode of The Sopranos shows Tony Soprano's death, a visual representation of this idea might look something like this ...



But somehow, even though we know this in fact, many of us still imagine deceased beings with feelings, needs, wants, drives. There is a psychological disconnect; Bering seems to argue that it comes from culture and an idea he calls "person permanence," an notion that people we care about always exist in some way:

"And so person permanence may be the final cognitive hurdle that gets in the way of our effectively realizing the dead as they truly are—infinitely in situ, inanimate carbon residue. Instead it’s much more 'natural' to imagine them as existing in some vague, unobservable locale, very much living their dead lives.

It's a fascinating read.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Insider's View of the Obituary Industry

Blog reader Laura tipped me off to this great column at lemondrop by Elizabeth Lardie, a professional obituary writer. Lardie writes with humor and distance, as you'd expect from someone who deals in death every day ... but she also manages a nice degree of reverence for what she does, as she shows in today's column, where she is shocked by a coworker who comes by each morning to ask if there are any "cool" dead people.

Here's the intro. paragraph from one of her columns:

"After a mere few months as an obituary writer, I got disturbingly accustomed to saying things like, 'Unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to say that your grandmother was beloved, since that would be editorializing.' It was very easy to forget the implications of a day's work. It was more than easy. It was necessity."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives Part II

A follow-up to my post earlier this week about theoretical physicist Hugh Everett III and his son Mark Everett of The EELS. Mark writes a brief description of how his father's possessions and remains were handled:

"... my mom came back from the morgue with a small bag that contained my dad's wallet, watch and wedding ring. My dad, who was a devout atheist, had once told my mom that he wanted to be thrown out in the trash. My mom kept his ashes in a box inside a filing cabinet drawer in the dining room for a few years, and eventually honoured his request."

I wonder at the assumption that an atheist would not need a ceremony. I think it's great that Hugh's family followed his wishes, even though they were highly out of the ordinary. I can see how, for an individual person, being detached from the corporeal form could connect to atheism. There is no life after death, therefore our forms means nothing once they are vacated. But is that necessarily so? Couldn't an atheist want a ceremony? If for no other reason, maybe just to comfort those who survive them?

Obama's visit to ailing grandmother

I dabbled in political work in college and shortly after—some campaigns, time with training institutes. It wasn't for me. And as a result of that experience, I'm fairly cynical about politics, especially the mechanisms of a campaign and what they can pressure people to do ... but this was a profoundly classy and decent thing to do. I am surprised and impressed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Necessary Death

The link for this video came from my friend Amelia.



It's a movie that poses as a documentary about suicide. Thankfully, not an actual documentary.

The filmmaker seeks to follow a person from the initial instinct of wanting to commit suicide to the day that they commit the act.

It's an interesting premise because, being a piece of fiction that pretends at nonfiction, it lets us explore the ethical issues that would be involved with such a documentary—why wouldn't the filmmaker stop the suicide? should suicide be entertainment? should the filmmaker try to help the suffering person?—without anyone actually being ethically complicit in the act.

And clearly from this YouTube clip, we can see they're advertising it as though it is a documentary. So, the film's producers want the confusion to exist.

I still have concerns that they're turning suicide into entertainment. Meta though the film may be, the act of suicide and the conversation around it become the main narrative thrust that push this movie forward. But it hasn't screened in Seattle yet, and I don't want to judge too harshly something I haven't seen. So, I'll keep an open mind until I've had a chance to view it.

Here's a link to the film's website.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives



NOVA aired an excellent program last night, focusing on the story of Mark Oliver Everett, frontman for the indie band EELS. Mark lost his father when he was just 18, and has only recently, now as a man in his 40s, began to come to terms with his father's death.

Mark's father was an academic. A devout atheist. A bit of an eccentric. Somewhat distant from his wife and children. And a brilliant theoretic physicist who invented the theory of parallel universes.

Hugh Everett III first published his theory in a 1957 dissertation. In very simple terms (simple because I am not a scientist) he says that although we only see one outcome from any given event, there are an infinite possibility of outcomes occurring in different, parallel universes. Of course, we know now, his idea is widely popular in mainstream science fiction (Lost, Star Trek, etc.). But his work only began to receive any credit from the scientific community in the late 70s. And Everett died in 82.

The work continues to gain in popularity. Now, as the oldest living son of a man with a legacy of mysterious genius, Mark Everett finds himself in the awkward role of playing caretaker to his father's memory. The NOVA special traced his path to document what he could about his father though surviving family photos, tapes, records, etc., and it recorded his thoughts serving as this strange sort of ambassador for his deceased dad.

In a way, we could say he is having the opposite experience of Christopher Buckley. Mark Everett is being trapped and confined by his father's death, not liberated.

Watch the program online here ... but only for one week. There are also background materials, including writing from Mark Everett and Hugh Everett's original dissertation here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mom Takes Ban on Bunny Suicides into her Own Hands



An Oregon mom is so upset over a copy of The Bunny Suicides that her 13-year-old son checked out from the local public library, she has vowed to keep the book at home so that no other child will be able to check it out from the library and be exposed to it. If the library replaces the book, she says she will have a friend check out that copy and keep it for her. Basically, she has made it her mission to rid her hometown library of The Bunny Suicides.

Now, The Bunny Suicides are morbid humor. They depict, in comic-book form, bunnies trying to kill themselves in different creative ways. I happen to think the book is funny because I tend to like dark humor, and it's pretty witty. But it's not everyone's cup of tea. I wouldn't fault anyone for not liking it. But to try to rid the library of something because you don't think it's funny and you find it offensive ... that's just plain censorship. It's self-righteous, and it's ridiculous.

The library's only recourse at this point is to charge the mom $13 for the cost of the book and possibly ban her son from ever checking out books at the library again. So, the town is out one book—yeah I know it's not Faulkner, but it is still censorship—and her son, who is checking out books at the library even though he's a 13-year-old boy—a minor miracle—might not be able to do that anymore. Seems like everyone loses.

I know it relates to death, and death can be a big, scary taboo ... but some people find this book funny regardless. Maybe if she doesn't like it, she could just leave the book alone and walk away from it. Or parent her child and tell him he can't read it, instead of trying to parent the whole town. Sigh.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bucking the trend

Christopher Buckley, son of the great conservative thinker and commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. has just endorsed Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president—a mere eight months after William Buckley's death. He did so in a post on Tina Brown's new website, The Daily Beast. In the ensuing controversy after the endorsement, Christopher's column in the National Review—a conservative magazine his father founded—was cut. The YouTube clip here is from a Hardball interview, which explains what happened in greater detail.



The New York Times has an article talking to the younger Buckley about the whole mess. Christopher seems to express some indecisiveness about how his father (and his mother who also recently passed) would have felt about his actions. But he does say he would have been reluctant to publish his support of Obama had his parents still been alive. Christopher admits, while it has been terribly difficult to lose his parents, it has also been freeing. Here's a quote:

“There is something ironically liberating when the father figure dies,” he said, sitting in his study, surrounded by his books and family mementos, including the manual Royal typewriter on which, he believes, his father wrote the 1951 classic, “God and Man at Yale.”

“You are for the first time, I think, fully your own man,” he added. “It’s also awful. I miss him every day. But I can now write about things I was not terribly comfortable writing about.”

It reminds me of a book I blogged about a few months back, Death Benefits by Jeanne Safer. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it's on my wish list, and I heard the author on the Diane Rehm show. Safer writes about the opportunities for growth that can come out of a parent's death. It's a profoundly intriguing idea. And I can certainly see where, if anyone would have a problem stepping out of their parent's shadow, it would be someone with a strong, successful parent like William Buckley.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"I'm not afraid of dying ... I'm just afraid of dying like this."


A quote from this piece in today's Seattle PI. The article covers some of what has happened over the 10 years Oregon's Death with Dignity law has been in place. I think it does a better job of providing a balanced overview than The Seattle Times piece did. (Less focus on exceptions, more compilation of overall statistics, although it's still a bit negative and fear-laden for my tastes.) The visual I include here is from the PI's article.

I hope this law passes. But right now, I'm so happy to see an article about the way we face death on the front page of Seattle's daily paper. This is definitely a step toward helping us all talk about death to the extent we should. Yay!

Also, I promise a thoughtful, non–I-1000 related post soon. It's just been in the news and on my mind a lot lately.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Billy Collins on Death

The First Night
by Billy Collins

The worst thing about death must be
the first night.
Juan Ramón Jiménez


Before I opened you, Jiménez,
it never occurred to me that day and night
would continue to circle each other in the ring of death,

but now you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun and a moon
and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set

then repair, each soul alone,
to some ghastly equivalent of a bed.
Or will the first night be the only night,

a darkness for which we have no other name?
How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death,
How impossible to write it down.

This is where language will stop,
the horse we have ridden all our lives
rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff.

The word that was in the beginning
and the word that was made flesh—
those and all the other words will cease.

Even now, reading you on this trellised porch,
how can I describe a sun that will shine after death?
But it is enough to frighten me

into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon,
to sunlight bright on water
or fragmented in a grove of trees,

and to look more closely here at these small leaves,
these sentinel thorns,
whose employment it is to guard the rose.
Those of you who follow poetry will know that former poet laureate Billy Collins is somewhat of a controversial figure. (Those of you who don't follow poetry may not know who he is.) Collins' work is more transparent than that of most laudable poets. Critics say it lacks depth and the structural legs to stand the test of time. Supporters of his work say he makes it look easy because of his great skill, and he should not be faulted for having poems that are a pleasure to read.

However you feel about his work, I'm drawn to the depiction of death he creates here—inspired by a quote from Juan Ramón Jiménez
.

Monday, October 13, 2008

One Patient's Struggle with Death with Dignity

The Oregonian has this heart-wrenching site, which offers an amazing opportunity to see inside one woman's struggle with decisions related to Death with Dignity.

Lovelle Svart was a former employee of the paper diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer who had supported Death with Dignity in theory but now had to decide whether to actually apply it to herself.

I think anyone who is charged with the opportunity to vote on I-1000 in Washington state this November should see this as part of making an informed decision. And it would be illuminating for anyone. But I will warn you, it is not easy to watch, read, or listen to.

Here is a link to the general page. And here is a link to audio and video from Svart's last hours and minutes.

Death with Dignity in Oregon

The Seattle Times is running an article about Oregon's Death with Dignity law, focusing on some of the cases and trends that have come up over the roughly 10 years that it has been in effect. I wish the article focused more on the generalities and less on the exceptions, but nevertheless, it is an interesting read.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

First Contact: October 14, 2008

Not directly related to death, but related to a vague sense of "the beyond," so I'm going to post even though it's a little off-topic. A group called The Federation of Light is claiming that aliens who "come in love" will make first contact on October 14, 2008.

Conveniently for America, the message is in English! Conveniently for the organization, the aliens cannot be communicated with in any way that earthlings find meaningful.

Here's a video that explains all. I use "explain" loosely of course.



On a listserve I'm on, one of my former professors, Lance Strate, head of the Institute of General Semantics, points out that this is likely a reaction to the anxiety of the financial markets, and general anxiety in the world due to terrorism. Dr. Strate reminds us that the first alien sightings in the 1940s came in correlation with the initial scare over "the bomb."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Styling Death—Rachel Zoe


Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe has a new reality show on Bravo. In this week's episode, she finds out her great uncle has passed away, the week before the Academy Awards, which is her busiest week of the year. Zoe is torn about whether to go to the funeral or whether to stay and fulfill her responsibilities to the clients she is styling for the Oscars.

I know lots of people hate the lifestyle Rachel Zoe has come to represent ... and lots more don't know who she is, but I think her dilemma is one many people can relate to. And if you haven't faced it, chances are, you will face something like it at some point in your life.

Here is a Q&A from her blog on Bravotv.com.

"You also get some bad news from her in the episode about your uncle's passing. You make the choice not to go to his funeral. How did you make that decision?

"That was one of the worst days of my life. ... My aunt Sylvia and uncle Jerry basically really helped to raise me. ... I had seen my uncle a week before in New York and I kind of had a feeling it would be the last time I saw him. He had gotten very sick. I struggled with going to the funeral and I wanted to be there more than anything.

One of the horrible things about living so far from your family is that when crisis happens, it's not so easy to be there. It was probably one of the hardest decisions I've ever made, but when I told my aunt I was going to come and cancel everything, she got furious with me. She said that my uncle would never, ever want me to drop everything and give up my responsibilities to be there ... . But as soon as that week ended, I got on a plane and I went and spent several days with my aunt. ..."

Did she make the right decision? I think it's easy enough to say she should have gone to the funeral. And abstractly we can all think we would have done just that.

Here's what's I'd like to highlight. Imagine yourself an independent professional whose career depends on your name, your sole performance. And this is the singular most important week of the year. You just saw the family member and feel like you said goodbye. Would you have gone to the funeral?


Dan Savage on I-1000

A very personal column in today's issue of The Stranger. Dan Savage writes about his support of I-1000, in light of his mother's recent death from polmonary fibrosis.

Here is a particularly Dan Savegey excerpt from the piece:

"If religious people believe assisted suicide is wrong, they have a right to say so. Same for gay marriage and abortion. They oppose them for religious reasons, but it's somehow not enough for them to deny those things to themselves. They have to rush into your intimate life and deny them to you, too—deny you control over your own reproductive organs, deny you the spouse of your choosing, condemn you to pain (or the terror of it) at the end of your life.

The proper response to religious opposition to choice or love or death can be reduced to a series of bumper stickers: Don't approve of abortion? Don't have one. Don't approve of gay marriage? Don't have one. Don't approve of physician-assisted suicide? For Christ's sake, don't have one. But don't tell me I can't have one—each one—because it offends your God.

Fuck your God."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jeff Koons decorates Versailles

A mood lifter for all of us. Not related to death ... or politics, or the economy, or anything heavy and dark, and don't we all need that right now?

The glorious Jeff Koons has decorated the Palace at Versailles. He has taken what are already a beautiful building and grounds, but do symbolize wastefulness in the extreme, and filled them with joy, optimism, and light-heartedness.

Here's a short video. I can't think of a better artist to spend five minutes with right now.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why the McCain Poll?

A commenter questioned why I had this month's poll topic focused on John McCain. I answered in the comments field but wanted to also draw it out into the main blog in case other people were wondering, as well.

McCain is 72 now and would be 76 at the end of his term. The average life expectancy for an American, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, is 77.8 years. And McCain, should he win, would be the oldest person ever inaugurated president.

Physician Assisted Suicide—Follow-Up

Some more information on Physician Assisted Suicide:

First, here is a link to an excellent resource on how to examine PAS through an ethical framework. It is the University of Washington's Bioethics website. I worked on the site back in 2002/2003. It is geared toward helping medical students learn to handle situations that will likely emerge once they become doctors, but I think the discussion can apply to anyone who is interested in picking apart this topic more fully. And it gives ethical arguments for BOTH SIDES.

Second, one question I have heard raised a lot on other blogs is why proponents of I-1000 don't just call what they are advocating for euthanasia. I'd like to explain that briefly. Euthanasia and PAS are two distinct terms. Euthanasia can be used to describe ending a life in a painless manner, a mercy killing if you will, but a euthanasia is actually performed by the medical personnel. In the case of PAS, a prescription is handed out by the doctor, and pills are given to the patient for the patient to take home and bring about death on their own. I'm not saying one is better than the other, just that there is a technical distinction.