What does “dead” mean?

Should death be defined in strictly biological terms — as the body’s failure to maintain integrated functioning of respiration, blood circulation, and neurological activity? Should death be declared on the basis of severe neurological injury even when biological functions remain intact? Or is it essentially a social construct that should be defined in different ways?

❝ These are among the wide-ranging questions explored in a new special report, “Defining Death: Organ Transplantation and the Fifty-Year Legacy of the Harvard Report on Brain Death,”…The special report is a collaboration between The Hastings Center and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School.

Sometimes, these days, I think of death and dying. Some of us must. The old ones. I think of Dylan Thomas. I must needs think of science. Most of me pretty worn; but, I may provide a jot of knowledge simply for what I have experienced and survived.

Fossil footprints challenge established theories — Don’t stop thinking on vacation!


Click to enlargeAndrzej Boczarowski

Newly discovered human-like footprints from Crete may put the established narrative of early human evolution to the test. The footprints are approximately 5.7 million years old and were made at a time when previous research puts our ancestors in Africa – with ape-like feet.

Ever since the discovery of fossils of Australopithecus in South and East Africa during the middle years of the 20th century, the origin of the human lineage has been thought to lie in Africa. More recent fossil discoveries in the same region, including the iconic 3.7 million year old Laetoli footprints from Tanzania which show human-like feet and upright locomotion, have cemented the idea that hominins (early members of the human lineage) not only originated in Africa but remained isolated there for several million years before dispersing to Europe and Asia. The discovery of approximately 5.7 million year old human-like footprints from Crete…overthrows this simple picture and suggests a more complex reality…

This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate. Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen,’ says Per Ahlberg.

RTFA for the reasoning behind these conclusions after the discovery in 2002 and further study begun in 2010. All because Gerard Gierlinski, a paleontologist at the Polish Geological Institute, kept his eyes and brain working while on vacation on Crete.

Dolly’s clone sisters have aged like any other sheep, OK?


Click to enlargePress Association

The four clones from the same cell line as Dolly the Sheep

Dolly the Sheep started her life in a test tube in 1996 and died just six years later. When she was only a year old, there was evidence that she might have been physically older. At five, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. And at six, a CT scan revealed tumors growing in her lungs, likely the result of an incurable infectious disease. Rather than let Dolly suffer, the vets put her to rest.

Poor Dolly never stood a chance. Or did she?

Meet Daisy, Diana, Debbie and Denise. “They’re old ladies. They’re very healthy for their age,” said Kevin Sinclair, a developmental biologist who, with his colleagues at the University of Nottingham in Britain, has answered a longstanding question about whether cloned animals like Dolly age prematurely.

In a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, the scientists tested these four sheep, created from the same cell line as Dolly, and nine other cloned sheep, finding that, contrary to popular belief, cloned animals appear to age normally…

Dolly’s birth, 20 years ago this month, blew the world away. Scientists had taken a single adult cell from a sheep’s udder, implanted it into an egg cell that had been stripped of its own DNA, and successfully created a living, breathing animal almost genetically identical to its donor.

Now, based on results of this new study, researchers have confirmed what most scientists believed years ago: Cloning does not lead to premature aging.

Many scientists hope that changes in perception will lead to advances in reproductive technology that will enable us to provide food for a growing global population, save endangered species and develop advanced therapies…Even then, welfare and ethical concerns will remain.

Some of those concerns are legitimate and should be the focus of scientific study. Most are crap grounded thoroughly in ignorance and fear.

In my reading, most of the self-titled scientific ethicists have little to do with science or ethics. They are religious moralists at root and dedicated to raising so-called concerns rooted in superstititon and retribution from their g_d.

Meanwhile, virtually all the laws governing clone research persist – even though they are about as legit as, say, laying on hands to raise the dead.

4 reasons why America’s teen birth rate just reached an all-time low

There are 42 percent fewer teen births now than just seven years ago. In 2007, 4.2 percent teenage girls in the United States gave birth. In 2014, the rate was 2.4 percent.

That decline is unprecedented, and spans all 50 states. And the states where it is dropping the fastest are diverse: Colorado, Arizona, Georgia, and Florida have all had declines above 40 percent…

Experts like Ginny Ehrlich know that the teen birth rate is dropping fast — faster than it has since the federal government began to keep count. They know that this is not about teens terminating more pregnancies; separate data shows the teen abortion rate has steadily declined since the late 1980s.

What they don’t understand is what, exactly, is driving the trend…

That being said, they did have a lot of compelling ideas about what might be happening, trends that don’t explain the entire decline in teen pregnancies but might tell some smaller part of the story. Here’s a handful of them:

Americans are having fewer children in general

As the economy turned south in the late 2000s, demographers noticed the start of a predictable trend: Birth rates began to drop. That change makes perfect sense and has shown up in prior economic downturns: Couples seem to delay having babies when budgets are tight…

Teens are using better contraceptives

One of the biggest recent changes in teens’ sexual behavior is the type of contraceptives they choose. Teenagers have increasingly gravitated toward long-acting, reversible contraceptives such as IUDs and implants. The percentage of women using these types of methods grew from 0.4 percent in 2005 to 7.1 percent in 2013 — a 17-fold increase in less than a decade…

High school students wait longer to have sex

Every two years, the federal government asks America’s teenagers a series of relatively intimate questions about their sex lives. This is the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, and it shows that high schoolers today have less sex than their parents did when they were teens…

Maybe sex ed is working?

The birth rate for all teenagers is falling. But it’s falling much faster for young teens. Since 2007, births have fallen 47 percent for young teens — and 39 percent for older teens.

To Ehrlich, this suggests there’s something about the environment that young teens are in that is different. She thinks there is something about the high school environment — perhaps better sex education — that is working well for younger women.

In all cases, the rallying points for religious morality, conservatives who want women ignorant and obedient, have failed. If “failed” is too strong a word – then try “unproductive”. I don’t care how or why some folks still think they have to limit choices and education for women; but, it hasn’t and won’t work. For anything – whether the topic is birth control, reproductive rights, voting rights, healthcare.

RTFA for more detail, graphic info. Some of it surprising. Gratifyingly so.

Why I hope to die at 75

Ezekial Emanuel
Ezekial Emanuel

Seventy-five.

That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.

This preference drives my daughters crazy. It drives my brothers crazy. My loving friends think I am crazy. They think that I can’t mean what I say; that I haven’t thought clearly about this, because there is so much in the world to see and do. To convince me of my errors, they enumerate the myriad people I know who are over 75 and doing quite well. They are certain that as I get closer to 75, I will push the desired age back to 80, then 85, maybe even 90.

I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.

First, read the whole article.

Obviously I have a small problem with this article. I’m already past 75. Ezekial Emanuel would say I think I am an outlier – and discuss the realities of that perception, positive and negative. And I love that. It’s materialist, scientific. I think I qualify – at least for the near-term.

Quality of life, what satisfaction I derive from that lifestyle is an all-encompassing determinant. Let me start with the most striking existential differences between Zeke and me. [I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Zeke]:

My family ties are small. My parents and peers are dead. I took care of the question of having children with a vasectomy at the age of 22. No regrets. Not even a look back. I had one close friend most of my life and he died ten years ago. That has been surpassed by the relationship I’ve had with my wife these past twenty-one years. She passed this article along to me to get my opinion – which differs in only a few ways from hers.

In many ways, I’m healthier now than I was when I retired. Mental challenges, introspection, thoroughly examining a dynamic world around us – in the broadest sense – is no less than it has been my whole life. Starting, I guess, when my mom taught me to read by the age of four. Physically, overall, I’m doing better than five or ten years ago. Lighter, stronger, more active – hampered a little by a foot injury for a few years, almost completely healed.

Most of this, again, owed to the dialectic of intellect between my wife and me. I may be doing better than 90% of my age peers. She’s doing better than 99% of her peers. Twenty years younger than I, she’s invigorating in her sharpness. And that’s where the only challenge to my differences with Zeke confront critical agreement. I’m not certain how I would view my life if I lost her.

She’s the one who brought that up. Because she’s already started looking at that consideration just because of age difference. I’m twenty years older. When she would be 75 – it’s not likely I’ll be around at 95. And, for now, she isn’t certain either if she would care to live on without the relationship we share.

As an existential question, I’m fine with living alone. We joke about being a pair of hermits. Only comparison with the depth and fullness of what we share makes solitude less than acceptable.

Ezekial Emanuel has an advantage over almost all of us. He’s a doctor. He can access any medications he deems appropriate to shuffle off this mortal coil and no one other than himself will be found guilty by out-of-date politicians, priests and pundits.

Thanks, Helen

The blog is on hiatus for a couple of days — UPDATED

Eideard icon

I get to celebrate my birthday, Thursday morning, under the hands of a plastic surgeon specializing in eye repair. Courtesy of age – and my Italian grandma’s genes. 🙂

I won’t be allowed to peer at a computer screen or television for a few days afterwards – and this is not the time for experiments with dictating blog posts to my iMac or iPad.

I should be back by the beginning of next week, Monday, 18 February.

UPDATE: 16/Feb — Peering out from inside this gray head, the surgery appears to have gone well. I can see better, a more complete field of vision than I have had in a number of years. Prognosis from the experts – doctor’s visit next week.

UPDATE: 18/Feb — Eyes appear to be working better than ever. Next Tuesday morning – the 26th – will tell the in-depth medical side of the procedures. And the removal of stitches [ouch].

Meanwhile, I’m resuming a limited schedule of posting – extending back out to all the blogs where I contribute over the next few days.

UPDATE: 26/Feb — Stitches removed this afternoon. I’m happy with progress. The doctor is happy with progress. Complete field of vision – and it will only continue to improve over next few months. The doc is going to use me as his poster child.

Perception? Gap between seniors’ opinion of driving ability and performance in the real world

A new report shows that 85 percent of senior drivers rated their driving as “excellent” or “good” during a five-year period although 25 percent reported having a crash. No participants rated their driving as poor, and less than 1 percent rated their driving as fair — which points to a possible lack of awareness of safe driving ability.

The study…analyzed Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration data from 350 older adult drivers ages 65-91 with a mean age of 74. The drivers were asked about self-reported incidents and state-reported crashes during a five-year period. They also were asked to rate their own driving abilities at year five. The study found that self-rated driving ability had no relationship with a previous history of adverse driving outcomes, such as crashes, other than receiving recommendations from physicians or friends to stop or limit driving…

Driver license requirements for seniors vary by state. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety eight states and the District of Columbia require vision tests for seniors. Illinois is the only state that mandates a road test for those ages 75 and older. This means that all other states rely on seniors to self-regulate their driving…

“Testing visual acuity is not enough to predict crashes. The screenings that show true promise in determining whether or not a senior is able to drive safely are performance-based,” says Lesley Ross, author of the study. “Until that happens, we found that receiving a suggestion to stop or limit driving had the greatest impact on seniors self-rated driving abilities.

“Clearly, there needs to be more open discussion among older adults, their family and friends, as well as physicians. Driving is essential to maintaining independence and mobility for many older adults, and discussions on limiting driving should not be taken lightly. It is a complex issue with real implications for older adults and their families,” Ross says.

I’ve found my self doing what my father did. I sit back and look at reaction time, attention to surroundings, how much might my attention wander even driving alone. He slowed down. I’ve slowed down. He even stopped driving on interstate highways at some point in time. I haven’t done that, yet.

Still, even if I get cranky over it – I would go along with testing in addition to the vision testing currently required here in New Mexico for old geezers.

Death rate drops among Americans with diabetes

People with diabetes are living longer, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 1997 and 2004, the percentage of people with diabetes who died from any cause dropped 23 percent, and the percentage of people who died from heart disease or stroke dropped 40 percent, the report says.

Improved treatments for heart disease, better management of diabetes and healthy lifestyle changes contributed to the decline in death rates, the researchers said. People with diabetes were less likely to smoke and more likely to be physically active than in the past…

However, obesity rates among people with diabetes continued to increase…

Although adults with diabetes are more likely to die younger than those who do not have the disease, the gap is narrowing. Currently, diabetes is estimated to contribute to an extra two deaths from heart disease per 1,000 people, and an extra six deaths from any cause per 1,000 people, the report said.

Because people with diabetes are living longer, and the rate of new cases being diagnosed is increasing, scientists expect that the total number of people with the disease will continue to rise, the CDC says.

The number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes has more than tripled since 1980, primarily due to increases in the number of people with Type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to a rise in obesity, inactivity and older age.

The CDC estimates that 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, and 7 million of them do not know they have the disease.

Offhand, I can’t think of any part of being a cranky old geek that doesn’t benefit from an active lifestyle. I don’t have diabetes; but, weight and age qualifies me for pre-diabetic.

Yes, you have to be careful, maybe add a touch of caution to your daily life. I tend to carry a cane with me on my walks not so much to aid the pace; but, to have something to lean on if I stop for a 30-second breather. Or to have it handy to help myself back up if I fall on my butt.

Still, I maintain 45 minutes to an hour walking every day, pretty much every day. Every year I seem to eat a little bit less and the food I consume is heart-healthier. That always seems to help the whole critter. I weigh 50 lbs less than my weight several years ago.

If you’re up for the dry-as-dust report, here’s a link to the .pdf.

New hope for older women having a baby using IVF

Older women hoping to conceive through IVF have been given new hope by research which shows age is not the key factor in the technique’s success. A study has found that some women aged 40 could have the same or better chances of having a baby via fertility treatment as a woman in her early thirties.

The findings will be used for a new test, which will assess up to 20 factors affecting fertility before giving couples a percentage rating of their chance of having a baby via IVF.

Although many of the factors which affect fertility are closely associated with ageing, biological age itself is not the best predictor of success or failure, according to the results of the study – which analysed the outcomes of more than 5,000 IVF treatments.

Measurements of hormone levels and the quality of embryos produced in the early stages of fertility treatment were found to give a better indication as to whether it would work, researchers said. Other factors, such as the thickness of the woman’s womb lining, her weight, lifestyle, the number of eggs produced by a woman under stimulation and the quality of the man’s sperm will all be used in new tests to assess the likely success of IVF…

Dr Mylene Yao…said: “After applying a sophisticated analysis programme to factors governing IVF success, we found that a woman of 40 could have the same or better chances of having a live baby as a woman in her early thirties.”

The former professor at Stanford University added: “This is a very important development as we want to get people away from thinking that probability is totally centred on age.

An important study for lots of folks. As much time as I spend battling for individual rights to choose what happens with your body and your life – because most of today’s conservatives and so-called libertarians would take away that right – there is a significant portion of our population equally patronized by nutballs who say you shouldn’t involve science in conception either.

What is it about this consistency in oppression?