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 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


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. ... 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.