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Stephen Ginn: “Moral obligation” or “a disaster for humanity and the planet?”

24 May, 12 | by BMJ

Stephen GinnIs medical control of human aging a worthy goal?

Despite the moisturisers you can buy it is impossible to reverse the damage of aging and very few of us will live to anywhere near the theoretical maximum of human age, estimated to be 125. Yet some people think the first person who will live substantially longer than this is alive today.

Aubrey de Grey is one of them.  He was recently speaking at a debate at the Oxford University Scientific Society, for the motion “This house wants to defeat aging entirely.”  De Grey is the chief scientific officer of the SENS foundation and a cheer leader for bringing aging under medical control.  “This is no longer a radical heretical idea” he says; for de Grey defeating aging is at the heart what medicine is about. And when we treat aging, longevity is a welcome side effect. more…

Richard Smith: Confusing animals and people

11 Apr, 12 | by BMJ

Richard SmithMy Kenyan friend thinks that Americans are mad. He worked for a while in an American hospital, and one day a colleague disappeared for a few hours. When he came back in the afternoon he said that he’d been to his father’s funeral. “He didn’t even seem sad,” said my friend. “In Kenya when a father dies there is a big funeral lasting days. Everybody comes.”

Two weeks later my Kenyan friend saw his colleague weeping. When he asked why, his colleague told him that his dog had died. “Fancy crying over a dog,” said my friend. “In Kenya dogs are never allowed into the house. They live with the other dogs. They are dogs. They work. How can you cry over a dog and not over your father? These Americans are crazy. They have everything upside down.” more…

Richard Smith and Melanie Lovell: Should doctors respect patients’ requests not to know?

6 Mar, 12 | by BMJ Group

Richard SmithWhat follows is an email debate between Melanie Lovell, a palliative care physician in Sydney, and Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ and chair of Patients Know Best. The debate began when Richard asked if Melanie had seen the editorial that he had written with two colleagues arguing that we need to take a more positive attitude to death.

ML: The deaths of patients who accept their situation and make the choice to use the period prior to death to heal relationships, cement their legacy, and prepare themselves for death and their families for a future without them, can be beautiful, peaceful and even joyful times of celebration and thanksgiving. Of course they are sad times too. This contrasts sharply with deaths of those who deny death and can die without the preparation which is so helpful. more…

Richard Smith: Talking death with a CCG

27 Feb, 12 | by BMJ Group

Richard SmithRecently I had the privilege of talking with the members of an emerging clinical commissioning group (CCG). (For those who don’t know, CCGs are groups of GPs who will have responsibility for commissioning care for a whole population.) It was my job to try and lift the conversation above governance, finance, and the future of the local hospital. I laid out an agenda of carbon reduction, polypathology, disruptive innovation, and, my favourite, death. And it was death that got them going, so much so that eventually you had to shout to be heard. (This was over dinner, and alcohol was served.) more…

Peter Lapsley: Dignifying death

14 Feb, 12 | by BMJ Group

Peter LapsleyWere I to develop motor neurone disease, or some comparably progressive, incurable, and terminal condition, I would wish to be informed of the diagnosis, perhaps to have the opportunity of a second opinion, to be given a carefully considered and evidence-based prognosis with timelines, however approximate, and then, having put my affairs in order and at a time of my choosing, to be allowed to depart this life at home and as quickly, quietly, and painlessly as possible. more…

Richard Smith: Death festival, day three

1 Feb, 12 | by BMJ

Richard SmithI’m up early and off to the death festival for the third day with a very light heart, and we are straight into practicalities. more…

Richard Smith: Death festival: day two

30 Jan, 12 | by BMJ Group

Richard SmithThe second day of the festival began with Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the Southbank Centre, explaining that the festival is about “reshaping our ability to look death in the eye, and to have a relaxed way of talking about death.” In a secular age, she says, we don’t have ways of congregating to talk about important things like death. more…

Richard Smith: Death festival: day one

30 Jan, 12 | by BMJ Group

Richard SmithThe Southbank Centre, London’s art centre on the South Bank of the Thames, is holding a festival of death. The aim is “to look death in the eye…to confront mortality head-on through music, theatre, literature, and debate.” more…

Richard Smith: Death becomes fashionable

15 Dec, 11 | by BMJ Group

Richard SmithDeath is becoming fashionable. London’s Southbank is planning a two day festival of death, the BMJ has a Christmas editorial urging us to think of death as a friend rather than an enemy, and last week the Centre for Humanities and Health at King’s College London held a death workshop where philosophers and doctors worked hard to understand each other.

I’ve attended one of these workshops before, and for me it wasn’t a success. The doctors talked to the doctors and the philosophers to the philosophers in a haze of mutual incomprehension. This time it worked much better—perhaps because we are learning or perhaps because everybody has something to say about death. more…

David Payne: Best death scenes in literature

11 Oct, 11 | by BMJ Group

David Payne Our 19th century ancestors were no strangers to death. So why were they so terrible at writing about it?

At a Cheltenham Literary Festival panel discussion on death scenes in literature, science broadcaster Vivienne Parry confessed to “being ready to shoot “ the ailing child heroine Little Nell long before Dickens killed her off in The Old Curiosity Shop. Oscar Wilde felt the same.  “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without dissolving into tears…of laughter,” he quipped. more…

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