Death Doesn’t Lie

“Death doesn’t lie, so death masks – a cast of the face in wax or plaster, taken just hours after breath has gone – promise truthful representations of the departed. In an era before photography, these masks give us each beauty and blemish, a living presence in unchanging material. But how were they made? And what is their uncanny allure?” (Obit Magazine)


Does Death Sell?

Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674): Still-Life...

A recent study by University of Wisconsin and University of Virginia consumer researchers… examined how individuals relate to objects they have purchased when they think about death. The result, strikingly, is that thinking about one’s demise motivates people to form a strong connection to their material possessions, specifically to the brands that they have purchased. In the face of the great unknown, people develop, “strong brand identity,” a melding of their personalities and their possessions.” via Obit Magazine.

This school of research originated with Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death (1974), which argued that the entirety of human culture is an attempt to manage our terror at the prospect of our mortality.


A neuroscientist imagines the afterlife

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from the Egyptian Book of the Dead...

“Something interesting almost always happens when thinkers with a scientific bent write fiction. (Jonah Lehrer discusses this in “Proust Was a Neuroscientist.”) But David Eagleman really is a neuroscientist — he heads the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine. Each vignette here describes a possible afterlife.

“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” The afterlife is soft in one story, has “San Diego weather” in another. Not surprising, God’s favorite book is “Frankenstein,” so Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley gets her own throne.

God is a woman. God is a married couple. We are God’s internal organs. In one afterlife, you relive your life with events shuffled in a different order; for example, you take all your pain at once or spend six days clipping your nails. Another afterlife is made up of only people you know. There’s less traffic, but “The missing crowds make you lonely.” “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives” is teeming, writhing with imagination. It’s the Duomo between covers, reinvented and distilled.” via Seattle Times.


‘I See Dead People’

“The dead stay with us, that much is clear. They remain in our hearts and minds, of course, but for many people they also linger in our senses—as sights, sounds, smells, touches or presences. Grief hallucinations are a normal reaction to bereavement but are rarely discussed, because people fear they might be considered insane or mentally destabilised by their loss. As a society we tend to associate hallucinations with things like drugs and mental illness, but we now know that hallucinations are common in sober healthy people and that they are more likely during times of stress.”

via Scientific American


O death, when is thy sting?

Gerrymandering the boundary: “In August… Robert Truog of the Harvard Medical School and Franklin Miller of America’s National Institutes of Health, bioethicists both, published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine describing a recent trend to revert to using cardiac death as the critical marker. But that is not good news for Dr Scaraffia and her followers for, according to Dr Truog and Dr Miller, the definition of cardiac death has changed over the years in just the sort of way that Dr Scaraffia predicted that it might.

Dr Truog and Dr Miller posit the example of a patient who has given informed consent to the withdrawal of life support in the case of his suffering devastating brain injury. The doctors respect his wishes and his heart stops beating. So far, so ethical. But instead of waiting a few minutes for his brain to die as well, they anticipate this inevitability and declare him dead immediately, so that they can hurry along with the business of removing his organs.

Death in such cases is therefore based on a decision not to resuscitate, not the impossibility of resuscitation. And their hypothetical case does seem to be happening more frequently in reality. In America, data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, an organisation that matches donors to recipients, show that those classified as cardiac-dead but not brain-dead represent the fastest growing proportion of donors, having risen from zero ten years ago to 7% in 2006.

Dr Truog and Dr Miller reckon this gerrymandering of the division between life and death will continue as long as doctors have to abide by the dead-donor rule—that although a living person can consent to have a non-vital organ removed for transplant (a single kidney, for example) vital organs can be removed only from dead bodies. Instead, they propose that someone whose brain is devastatingly and irreversibly damaged, and who has previously given his informed consent, should be able to donate vital organs while still alive.

In practice, says Dr Truog, this would not differ much from what happens now, except that doctors would be released from the temptation to fudge the definition of death, or to accelerate it by, for example, withdrawing life-sustaining treatment. Indeed, the British government is considering changing the regulations in a way that would allow just that to happen.” (The Economist)