What is wrong with dying? II

I gingerly picked up on this topic a few years back. I recounted then that quite a few people I had discussed issues around dying with did not seem to have what is often taken to be a standard, egocentric sense of great loss that dying would seem, paradoxically, to bring. (It’s paradoxical because the dead person is no longer in a position to suffer the loses.) Rather, many people I had spoken to were worried about the harms and losses visited on those whom they would leave behind.

One conclusion might be to say that there is no one kind of bad thing about dying. What one doesn’t want to happen will depend on all sorts of other things. But what I have started wondering is whether there need be anything bad about dying. Might not one feel a complete enough individual with a quite good account of how one has used one’s talents and worked to overcome adversity that one could be rather content to leave now, or five or ten years hence. The point being that one feels one’s done a lot.

What happened to me to raise this question was that I had developed a very bad abdominal infection and had to have emergency surgery. It was close to life-threatening, and so I ended up reflecting on what it would be like had it actually been life threatening. “Well, whatever,” I thought, as I fell back asleep full to the gills with narcotic pain killers and intravenous antibios.

Because of those circumstances, I don’t for a minute want to make this about me or my life’s experiences, still less my accomplishes. Rather, I think that if one’s feelings are skewed by a lot of pills, one shouldn’t draw on them to reach a large conclusion. Still, it seems a sensible question that can be asked. Is there a sense of completeness that can leave one fairly calm in the face of death?

What about those one leaves behind? In the case of an older academic who agreed with Alva Noe’s view about stopping with one child, that child may have inherit enough to quite drastically change their control over their life’s circumstances. And one may be leaving one’s partner embedded in a supportive community.

In this case, is death so awful? My whole life I have thought of death as a pretty terrible curse. But need it be? Of course, death might be preferable to years of severe pain, but might death also be not to be feared in some fairly ordinary circumstances.

Sex in the country of the aged

Does sexual activity always require the capacity to consent?  I’ve started to wonder.

Suppose you and your beloved spouse, both middle-aged and abled-body, arrived home from a party and realize one of you has had too much to drink.  More than either of you had realized.  But, curling up in bed, both of you feel that hugs and kisses wherever they may lead are very appealing.  Should the sober one refrain on the grounds that the other can’t really meaningfully consent?

There are many possible complicating factors with sexual encounters, which is why I added in marriage, age and ability.  A similar scenario could quite easily become a legal nightmare.  And what about a specific disability, dementia?  Right now this issue may be addressed in a court:

Henry Rayhons, 78, has been charged with third-degree felony sexual abuse, accused of having sex with his wife in a nursing home on May 23, 2014, eight days after staff members there told him they believed she was mentally unable to agree to sex.

It is rare, possibly unprecedented, for such circumstances to prompt criminal charges. Mr. Rayhons, a nine-term Republican state legislator, decided not to seek another term after his arrest.

There is no allegation that Mrs. Rayhons resisted or showed signs of abuse. And it is widely agreed that the Rayhonses had a loving, affectionate relationship, having married in 2007 after each had been widowed. They met while singing in a church choir.

Can one be hugely disappointed but not at all surprised?

If so, here’s a good case, from CHE

U. of Illinois Board Votes Down Salaita Appointment
The University of Illinois’s Board of Trustees voted on Thursday to deny the appointment of Steven G. Salaita to a professorship on the Urbana-Champaign campus, in the latest chapter of a month-old saga that has inflamed academe.

That Mr. Salaita’s appointment appeared on the list of proposed faculty hires to be voted on by the board came as a surprise. The campus’s chancellor, Phyllis M. Wise, who has been the subject of several no-confidence votes at the college, maintained in recent weeks that she would not send the appointment to the board. Trustees have expressed support for her leadership.

H/t also to Dailynous

Having a cocktail is such fun; let’s blame breast cancer deaths on it.

Goodness knows why alcohol got the blame, but it certainly did. A large study based on nurses’ self-reports was a very significant factor in this story.

Alcohol and Risk of Breast Cancer
Steven A. Narod, MD
JAMA. 2011;306(17):1920-1921. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1589.

In this issue of JAMA, Chen and colleagues1 report findings from the Nurses’ Health Study exploring the relationship between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. The authors’ principal findings were that the cumulative amount of alcohol a woman consumes during adulthood is the best predictor of her breast cancer risk and that low levels of alcohol consumption (as few as 3 drinks a week) are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Everyone (it seems) at the large, famous and amazingly effective cancer center, MD Anderson, is extremely anti-alcohol.

But that may not be the whole story. From today’s NY Times:

Alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk for breast cancer. But a new study suggests that moderate drinking has little effect on survival after diagnosis, and may reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers, writing online in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, studied 22,890 women with breast cancer, recording information on alcohol intake before diagnosis and, for a subset of 4,881 of them, after diagnosis as well.

After controlling for age, education, stage of cancer, body mass index, smoking and other factors, they found that breast cancer survival was similar in women who drank alcohol after diagnosis and those who did not. But women who drank moderately before diagnosis — three to six drinks a week — were significantly less likely to die of breast cancer and of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, the authors write, is increasingly being recognized as a mortality cause among breast cancer survivors.

There are a lot of questions left unanswered. One is about the difference between risk and death for people not yet diagnosed at age 50.

So you found the magic pill…

Let’s suppose you were given a prescription for a pill that will mean you lose 2-3 lbs a week, while you eat as much as you want of anything you want.

But it has some side effects.  One is getting seized by itching, which seems to move around your body at random.  (Cortisone cream helps.)  Another is that you can get tense and a bit bad tempered; your partner’s new and strange desire to help with dinner is irritating you a lot.  Digestion is not as simple as before, there may be mild hair loss(temporary), sleep can be disturbed easily and you have quite dry mouth.  And even with insurance, it is $10 a pill, one pill daily.

Of course, you strongly disapprove of the cultural obsession about women’s weight that is all around you.  But then you remember the recent remark on this blog that if you lose 20 lbs, your course evaluations will go up.  So it isn’t that you are endorsing these norms; you are trying to survive them.

Not everyone gets all the side effects.  How much would you tolerate to lose 15 lbs in 5 weeks?  Without ever being hungry, eating what you want, etc.


By the way, there really is such a pill.  Do you know which it is?


Seventeen is a magazine that tries to cater for late teen tastes.  I used to look at it occasionally when I was a teen, and so when I was trapped waiting for 45 min for a friend, I decided to take a look at its prom issue.  I could divide the comments in my head into two types:

From long ago:  1.  Some of these dresses look like night gowns; do you want to go to the prom in your underwear?

( a bit of a non-sequitur, but you get the idea)

2.  Thank goodness some of them are not strapless.

(the nuns would roam around with muslim muslin and safety pins to cover up an immodest girl.)

And then voices from the present century:

1.  Some of the dresses are sized 2-18 and others go as large as 24.  Fabulous.

2.  Big bottoms are clearly allowed and maybe even enouraged.  Yea!  (When I was buying Seventeen, we – already poorly endowed white women/girls – all wore girdles.)

3.  No more photoshopping of bodies, Seventeen says, and that’s actually likely.   Plus-size models are genuinely plus.  Hooray!

The down side:  the burning questions of today look awfully like those of the 50’s and 60′, which means way too many of them are about how he will react to you/her.   Gay couples don’t have any  problems??  There are no important problems that don’t have to do with sex?

O, Tra-la-la.  Life is deliciously trivial

Would you have expected this?

I was surprised by an incident – involving me – on my campus. I would not have expected this, and in fact I’ve embarrassingly agreed in print with Hume about our having a natural tendency to care about others, at least those in our community who are like us.

I had been at a large and fairly formal lunch. No alcohol, but I was in my best daytime attire. Shortly after I left the hotel on campus where the event was, I stumbled and fell. Fortunately, my left hand and arm got most of the damage; my head didn’t touch the ground and nothing was broken. But I was very shaken up. So I decided not to move for a while.

So picture this: definitely older woman, black silk trousers, quite nice red top, a rope of pearls, sitting on a campus sidewalk, her back against a wall, and her legs straight out onto the pavement. A few possessions scattered by her side. A university name tag still on her top.

I think something like 20-25 students passed me. No one stopped and asked if I needed help.

Of course, I could have asked for help, but decided not to when no one seemed the least bit concerned. But I hardly looked to be just enjoying myself; I hope I would have stopped if it were someone else.