‘I Run a Death Cafe’

By Megan Mooney

I’ve been interested in death my entire life. I was going to be a mortician, and then I took a grief and loss class in college and switched degrees. I’m now a social worker. But I had always wanted to do something on a macro level to help my community around issues of death and dying.

In 2012, I was completing my social work practicum at a hospice and the team leader there wanted me to do some community involvement work. She told me she’d read an article about a “death cookie” group. I talked to my boss and she explained the correct name for the organization was Death Cafe and told me to get in touch with Lizzy Miles, who had started the cafes in the U.S. that year, after reading about them in the U.K.

It happened to be around the same time my uncle had died of cancer; he’d had a horrible death. So I really wanted to create a group where people could come and talk about death and educate each other. After I emailed Lizzy, she called me and we talked for hours.

She helped me get my first death cafe started in February 2013 at a coffee shop in town. The cafes were starting in LA, Atlanta and New York, but I’m in a small town called St. Joseph in Midwest Missouri, so there were none around my area at the time. At my first death cafe and for the five after, I had two women who would drive 7 hours each way to attend. That showed me how much people needed this safe place to talk about death and dying.

We have coffee and cake at each session and my first cake said “Missouri’s First Death Cafe” on it. I laugh about it now because I got so much cr*p for that cake. I went to a big grocery store and told the lady there that I wanted little headstones on the cake. She got mad and told me it was a family business. I had to explain to her what I actually needed the cake for.

But people still thought we were going there to “drink the Kool-Aid” and die. Before my first death cafe a local hairdresser said that an older woman had read a news article about it and was talking about how it was a morbid group getting together to do God knows what. A lot of people still think it’s a morbid group.

Every death cafe is different in terms of who attends and what the attendees talk about, but we all follow the same rules: It’s not a grief or counselling service, we are non-profit, the cafes are held in an accessible, respectful and confidential space and they have no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action. We also always offer drinks and nourishing cakes! Having food is very important. It is life sustaining and we believe it helps people to feel more open to talking about death.

There were about 20 people at my first death cafe and their ages ranged from 25 to 70. It’s for adults, so 18 and older but I’ll have people of all ages; the oldest attendee I’ve had was 85. But I’ve only ever had one person come who was terminally ill.

When I host, I have four or five people at each table and at the beginning I ask everyone to start with what brought them here to talk about death and dying. That seems to be the only thing I need to ask.

My dad and aunt came to my first death cafe. My father never talked about death and my aunt hadn’t been able to talk about my uncle’s recent death without crying, so I didn’t know how it would be. But as I was looking around, my dad was laughing with his group and my aunt was laughing with hers. I sat down and heard my aunt talking about my uncle’s death without crying for the first time.

The following week my dad called me and was talking about how you’re not supposed to make any big decisions within the first year of a loss. He then told me he’d learned that from the ladies at his table at the death cafe.

My dad came to every single death cafe I held after that, except one, and he planned his funeral and all his funeral songs. He died three years ago, but his death was easier for me because we’d had all these conversations about it. He talked all the time about how much the death cafe helped him face his own death.

Death cafes run all over the world
Megan Mooney has been running death cafes in St. Joseph, Missouri since 2013.

A theme that often comes up is relationships and death. People will talk about losses they have had and how it impacted them. Everybody has experienced a death in their life and most of them have never really talked about it. I had a lady who came in, she was probably in her late 50s and she was really shaky at the beginning. At the end she came and thanked me and said that she had never been able to talk about death with anybody before because in her family it was a “taboo”.

People also talk about what they want at the end of their life. There can be a superstition that talking about death brings it closer, so people avoid talking about it at all costs. But when you don’t plan for the end of your life it can be harmful to your loved ones, or add to their grief. My dad making plans helped me tremendously and it was cathartic for him too.

While there are sometimes tears, most death cafes are full of people laughing and having a good time. I believe that thinking and talking about death helps us to be our authentic selves. It helps us to take our mask off and not take things for granted. We’re often in such denial about death that we hurry through life and don’t appreciate the people in it. At these cafes, you get together with strangers and you’re talking about an intimate topic that most people can’t even talk about with their family. It brings you closer and helps improve your relationships with people.

At the end of each death cafe I ask attendees what their “Aha!” moment has been and I hand out surveys. One of the questions is: “Did your views on death change as a result of the death cafe?” It’s crazy because almost every time people answer something like: “My views on death didn’t change but my views on life have changed.”

When COVID first hit we decided the death cafes had to be online. But it ended up being a blessing in some ways because it meant we could meet with people in different countries all over the world at the same time. Now we’re back meeting in person, but we do have cafes online too.

Death cafes began in the U.K.
Megan Mooney first started running death cafes in 2013. She has now run 45 death cafes with hundreds of attendees.

I’ve run about 45 death cafes since 2013 and the smallest group I’ve ever had was still 10 people. I’ve also had companies ask me to host death cafes for their staff. I had one life insurance company with 1,500 staff and there was a woman there whose son had died by suicide. When I asked if anyone had any “aha!” moments, she stood up and shared how she felt about her colleagues’ reaction to her since she had returned to work.

Being involved with Death Café has taught me to love with my whole heart and that nothing in life is permanent. I’ve learned how to accept change, which can be hard. And, I’ve realized that relationships matter the most in life: my relationship with my daughter and spending time with her. That used to include my dad too, he was my best friend.

As a leader for Death Café, I have learned tremendous lessons from attendees and our followers on social media. I’ve learned that so many things in life are trivial. I don’t really get upset any more. Our views on death usually inform the way we live. When you start to come to terms with your own mortality, it can push you to really live your life and to be the best version of yourself. If you look at life from the vantage point of death you can see how beautiful it is.

Complete Article HERE!

From fiction to reality

— Could forests replace cemeteries?

From tree pods and mushroom suits to plain old dirt, death may have a greener future.

By

The way humans live impacts the world. So does the way they die.

It isn’t death itself that creates an ecological nightmare, but rather the resource-intensive processes we’ve devised for dealing with the dead. On top of all the land that’s set aside for graveyards, building caskets requires around 30 million board feet of wood and 90,000 tons of steel each year (that’s more steel than you’ll find in the Golden Gate Bridge). Grave vaults guzzle up 1.6 million tons of concrete annually. And 800,000 gallons of toxic chemicals like formaldehyde go into embalming — chemicals that often wind up seeping into the ground. (Oh, and all these stats are for the U.S. alone.)

Cremation, which has edged out burial as the most popular option in the U.S., requires vast amounts of energy to maintain the 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit needed to incinerate a corpse, which can take two hours or more. In the U.S., the process releases about 250,000 tons of CO₂ into the atmosphere annually — the equivalent of burning more than 30 million gallons of gasoline — and a significant amount of mercury from dental fillings.

By now you may be thinking, “There’s got to be a better way.” There is.

We already have several eco-friendlier ways of dealing with the dead, and more than 50 percent of Americans are considering them. These methods can be as simple as wrapping bodies in cloth and lowering them into the ground to decompose, or as cutting-edge as human composting and mushroom suits. There are also culture-specific traditions like the Tibetan sky burial, in which the dead are dismembered and left on mountaintops to be feasted upon by vultures.

In her short story The Tree in the Back Yard, a finalist in Fix’s Imagine 2200 climate-fiction contest, author Michelle Yoon envisions a future in which green burial practices have become commonplace. In the opening scene, the main character, Mariska, chooses a tree that her father’s remains will nourish via a receptacle called an Eternity Pod. Later, when she goes to visit his final resting place, Mariska sees “Trees of all types, all ages. Trees as far as her eyes could see,” each one marking a natural burial site.

How close are we to the future Yoon imagines?

The modern green burial movement

Generally speaking, a green burial is one that encourages the natural process of decomposition. That means no embalming, fancy caskets, or headstones. In the most straightforward application, remains are placed in a simple box or cloth, and interred at a depth of about 3½ feet — roughly half the proverbial 6 feet under — where there’s more microbial activity in the soil.

The modern movement emerged about 30 years ago as some sought to reclaim the intimacy and filial responsibility that is lost when a third party takes ownership of the dead, says Hannah Rumble, a social anthropologist at the University of Bath’s Centre for Death and Society in England. “It was almost kind of a re-enchantment — this idea that our dead were a fertile source for new life, if we put them in sensitive ways back in the environment,” she says. “Rather than seeing a corpse as yucky and icky and something that needs to be sanitized and hidden away, actually the corpse, in its very decomposition, could be quite useful.”

Much like other eco-conscious movements — local food, right-to-repair, and living off the grid, for example — green burial, at its heart, is about reclaiming and re-familiarizing ourselves with a process. In this case, death.

In some cultures, elements of these practices are the norm already. Traditional Jewish burial involves family members washing and preparing the body, dressing it in a shroud, and burying it in a simple pine coffin, or no coffin at all. Although this practice is based on ancient Jewish law, it aligns with much of the green burial ethos. “It emphasizes simplicity, equality in death, and return of the body to the earth,” says Rabbi Seth Goldstein.

Muslim tradition similarly involves ritual bathing of a corpse, wrapping it in a cloth, and burying it without a casket, facing Mecca. In both customs, the funeral happens as quickly as possible after the person has died — which respects religious teachings about honoring the dead but also makes sense biologically. Without embalming or other forms of preservation, bodies must be interred ASAP, for obvious reasons.

Much like other eco-conscious movements, green burial is about reclaiming and re-familiarizing ourselves with a process. In this case, death. 

Although straightforward burial can be made more sustainable, an increasing number of  alternative methods that promise to make death not only sustainable but beneficial to the earth have captured the imaginations of entrepreneurs and designers — and some have become legit options. Human composting (or, as proponents prefer, “natural organic reduction”) made headlines earlier this year when Recompose, the first fully operational human composting facility, opened its doors in Kent, Washington. Colorado legalized the process this year, and Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont are considering it.

Then there’s the mushroom suit, which actor Luke Perry was famously buried in. The sleek, black “infinity burial suit” is made of organic cotton and specially cultivated fungi, which the company claims help detoxify the corpse and deliver its nutrients to the soil.

What’s shown in The Tree in the Back Yard is a form of tree burial — the burial of human remains (cremated or otherwise) in a biodegradable “pod,” from which a tree will grow, letting the remains nourish its roots. Italian company Capsula Mundi (or “the world’s capsule”) has designed egg-shaped urns intended to feed saplings planted above them. So far, the only product it has on the market is an urn for ashes, but the company intends to pilot a larger pod that could hold a human body.

Legal and cultural barriers, and the future

The largest obstacle to something like Yoon’s vision of a full graveyard of trees growing from burial pods is not the technology, but the stigmas and laws it needs to overcome.

Death is a deeply emotional, ritualistic affair in most parts of the world, and customs (or outright rules) around dealing with the dead can be stringent. “Unless you’ve got a country whose population follows one particular cultural or religious tradition, I think it’s kind of impossible to say that you’ll have a wholly burial culture or a wholly cremation culture in a country,” says Rumble. Some religions necessitate cremation, like Hinduism, while other teachings support burial in specific ways. According to Rumble, that means there will always be a need for multiple options.

But that doesn’t mean newfangled approaches like tree burial and human composting can’t be compatible with religious teaching and rituals. For Goldstein, who lives and practices in Washington, human composting has become a real option for members of his community. And although it isn’t traditional, Goldstein finds that the practice can uphold Jewish teachings and values and shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed as non-Jewish.

“I can’t declare pork to be kosher all of a sudden,” he says. “But other things have more fluidity, in terms of the intersection between spiritual values and tradition and new technologies.” Goldstein puts the onus on himself and other religious leaders to find opportunities to make meaning out of these new approaches, rather than saying no to what people of faith want for themselves or their loved ones. “Sometimes people ask me, ‘Is this OK?’ And I think that really what they’re asking is, ‘How do we make this Jewish?’”

As for simpler green burials replacing the chemical- and resource-intensive methods, other barriers must be overcome. In the Western world, the sanitized approach to handling dead bodies doesn’t just reflect our culture — it has also made its way into our laws. Some states require embalming or refrigeration of bodies that have been dead for more than 24 hours. If families haven’t planned ahead, that doesn’t leave much time to make arrangements at a natural burial ground.

“Some jurisdictions [also] mandate the use of concrete liners,” Goldstein says, which wouldn’t traditionally be used in Jewish burial and aren’t compatible with the green approach, either. In 2008, a county in Georgia passed an ordinance requiring leak-proof containers for corpses, due to a complaint about a proposed green burial site. Most states allow home burial on private property, but some also require special permits to do so and a handful of states mandate that a funeral director be on hand.

Even if it’s not law, each cemetery sets its own policies and requirements. According to the Green Burial Council, only 335 cemeteries across the U.S. and Canada offer green or conservation burial options (there are more than 144,000 total cemeteries in the U.S.). A majority of those are hybrid cemeteries, and some are also Jewish or otherwise affiliated.

But the list has been steadily growing. In 2018, 54 percent of Americans said they were considering a green burial, and 72 percent of cemeteries reported increased demand for eco-friendly options. There are all kinds of reasons for the shift, beyond the desire to live (er, die) more lightly on the planet. Natural burial options may be cheaper than ones involving ornate caskets, concrete vaults, and granite headstones. When a grave site is incorporated into the landscape, there’s no need to maintain or decorate it, which removes the fear of placing a burden on family members — or becoming the sad spectacle of an unloved grave.

And the desire to return to the earth, which has echoes in many religious teachings, appeals to many on a spiritual level. “Whether through the lenses of personal faith or secular society or science, we all recognize that circular notion of life and death,” Rumble says. Natural burial speaks directly to that, whether it’s in a simple cotton shroud or a mushroom suit. “The fact that, perhaps, you exist in some other form because your body’s gone back to the soil, that offers great solace to people,” she says.

And in fact, that very mindset shift may turn out to be more important than the emissions saved or the trees planted. As various forms of green burial begin to take root, they reinforce the idea that we humans are part of the natural world, and we have a responsibility to nurture it — in life as well as in death.

Complete Article HERE!

What grief feels like

— and how to help those going through it

By Bridget McNulty

When her mother died, 13 days after diagnosis, author of ‘The Grief Handbook: A guide through the worst days of your life’, Bridget McNulty, was — quite literally — lost for words. Here she shares more about her experience with grief, and the simple things one can do to help someone grieving.

A friend asked me, the other day, to write a handbook that explains how to support someone going through grief. I smiled and changed the subject. It’s such a lovely intention, but the fact is that there is very little you can do to help someone when they’re in deep grief.

What I can do — or attempt to do — is put the feelings into words. To try to put the mass of emotions down on paper so one understands (a little) about what it’s like.

In the days and weeks after you’ve lost someone you deeply love, it feels as if your world has been cast adrift. As if you were on solid land, but you’re now bobbing out to sea, on an unstable raft, liable to fall into the water at any moment. All sense, all stability, all meaning has gone, and everywhere you look it’s just an endless grey horizon of sameness. Until you fall off the raft into the freezing grey water, which is desperate and icy, so you clamber back out — back into the fog and fug of grief.

There were three things that surprised me about grief when my mom died 13 days after her diagnosis. The first was how all-consuming and hard it was. I had always imagined grief to be an older cousin of sadness, or a big sister of despair. This was something else entirely. Something physical, and emotional, and mental. Something that seeped into every space in my life and made it harder.

It was only when I did the research for The Grief Handbook that I realised there was a scientific reason behind this. Grief is actually a prolonged stress response, which means your body is stuck in fight-or-flight, flooded with cortisol. Too much cortisol in the body leads to high blood sugar (which I noticed most because I’m a Type 1 diabetic), fatigue, irritability, headaches, gut issues, anxiety or depression, weight gain, increased blood pressure and low libido. A bouquet of physical symptoms that make it more difficult to get through the emotional loss of someone you love, and to grapple with the mental incomprehension that they are gone, now, forever.

The second thing that surprised me was how boring grief was. Every day felt similarly awful. There was no new information to process and yet I needed — desperately — to process the same information, over and over. To tell the same story of the horror of a 72-year-old mom who had been perfectly healthy, and then had sore feet and acid reflux, and then suddenly lost weight, been admitted to hospital with four different kinds of cancer, had a stroke, and died. In the space of two weeks.

There were moments — burned into my brain now — that I had to keep replaying. The hospital corridor where I hid from my dad and howled. The garden where I tried to fold in on myself and disappear. The room where we brought my mom home whole, and where she quickly slipped into a morphine coma, and then — just like that — was gone. The timing the timing the timing… That horrified me the most. We were dancing to The Cure playing live in Cape Town in early March, she was in a morphine coma in late June, she was gone on the 1st July.

The third and final surprise of grief was how words failed me. Words, my constant companion since I learnt how to speak and write, had never failed me before! And yet now, they all sounded hollow. Yes, I was heartbroken — but I had been heartbroken in my 20s when I broke up with my musician boyfriend. Yes, I was exhausted — but I had been exhausted when I was sleep-deprived with young kids in my 30s. Yes, I was sad — but I had been sad about all kinds of minor losses before this… None of the words at my disposal were intense and vivid enough to describe the absolute heartache that made it difficult to breathe, that made me want to vomit, that leached all the joy out of my life.

How, then, do I tell my friend what she can do to help?

Well, I have an answer for that, actually.

Or rather, I have a few suggestions of things that might help, and some that definitely don’t.

The kindest and most helpful thing to do is also the hardest (sorry). If you are close to someone who is battling their way out there on the stormy seas of grief, just be there. Be the tether that holds their flimsy raft to shore. Sit with them if they want company, check in on them even if they don’t know how to respond, try your best to be a constant, steady presence. It is really hard and boring to be friends with someone who is grieving, but if you can manage it you will be doing them a great service. Because one day (who knows when?) they will need to offload some of the heartache and if you can hold their hand (physically or virtually), this unburdening will be a little easier.

The other thing you can do is to offer practical help. Somehow, life doesn’t stop when grief takes over. Dinner still needs to be made, the house still needs to be tidied, children still need to be played with and admin still has to be done. All these daily tasks can seem completely overwhelming to someone in deep grief, though. Specific help can be a huge relief. Not, “Let me know if I can do anything to help,” (never “Let me know if I can do anything to help!”) because that puts pressure on the person who is grieving to identify what they need. It’ll never happen. Rather: “Can I drop off dinner on Tuesday at 5pm? I won’t stay,” Or: “Can I pick up some groceries for you / tidy your house / take your kids out for an hour so you can have a nap?” Anything to lighten the daily burden of tasks is a big help.

The month before my mom got sick, one of her friends started chemo. She felt so helpless in the face of her friend having to undergo this painful treatment every day (the friend later felt so guilty coming to my mom’s funeral). Her solution? Every morning she sent her a funny meme or joke, and she made her a brightly coloured lap quilt so she wouldn’t get cold during treatment. Something to brighten a few seconds of the day, and something practical and cheery to keep her warm.

Grief is the one thing that is inevitable. It is the one thing you and me and everyone we know are guaranteed of living through. We are all one day going to be cast adrift from the comforting normality of our daily lives, and into the seemingly endless grey fog of grief. And yet, if we know what to expect — if we have held the ropes that hold the rafts of our friends who are out on that stormy sea — it may be a little more manageable. The enormity may be slightly easier to bear.

Complete Article HERE!

On the Politics of Death

Global events such as pandemics can momentarily focus attention on a fundamentally overlooked pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how individuals in power decide who lives and who dies.

By: John Troyer

Pandemics make ignoring death harder to do. That doesn’t mean government officials and friends alike won’t symbolically look the other way or reflexively stare harder at their phones during mortality spike events. But the longer any act of ignoring continues, the more obvious the avalanche of death being ignored becomes.

Ignoring something is, of course, different than repressing it. We are acknowledging its existence by ignoring it. We see death. We understand it happens. All of us know people who have died. Everyone reading these words will eventually die.

Which brings me to our current death moment.

The Covid-19 pandemic is but one example from a long list of morbidity and mortality events that momentarily exposed the politics of death for everyone to see. And by everyone, I mean the citizens of every single country on the planet who are suddenly witnessing what those of us who work in death full-time already knew: Our leaders regularly choose to decide who lives and who dies.

Now flip that last statement into a question and one can begin to see the genealogical shadow of Queens and Emperors: Who lives and who dies? Thumbs up or thumbs down? These are foundational and urgent questions that confront modern governments with choices to make on any given day but especially so during a pandemic. The early AIDS epidemic remains a tragic illustration of how different governments decided that the queer communities watching gay men die in unprecedented numbers could be ignored until suddenly those same governments were dealing with a pandemic that remains with us today.

Thanatopolitics, or the Politics of Death

Who lives and who dies are clearly not new questions, but global events such as pandemics can momentarily focus attention on a fundamentally overlooked pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how individuals in power answer those questions.

And while it is correct to state that all biological creatures die at a certain point, that dying is hardly universal in how it impacts different communities. What I’m saying may not come as a surprise, but it is important to foreground this information as a way of stating that when discussing death in the modern Western world, we are often discussing the politics of death. Even if people do not realize this distinction when talking about death and dying — and many people, I believe, do not — the ways end-of-life trajectories become discussed focus on the dynamics causing that death to happen. This distinction matters since understanding how a person died — the core causation of the death, especially during a pandemic — is often laden with political questions around access to care, medical ethics, and economic stability.

While death and dead bodies are obviously connected, the politics surrounding each remains unique and should be distinguished from one another.

This death politics can properly be called a thanatopolitics, borrowing thanato for death from the Ancient Greeks and working with both Giorgio Agamben’s and Michel Foucault’s ideas around biopolitics and forms of life.

What this thanatopolitics of who lives and who dies — with a heavy emphasis here on the “dies” bit — is not is the related concept of necropolitics. The latter is a distinct and important idea first suggested by philosopher Achille Mbembe that more accurately describes the politics of dead bodies (the necro in Ancient Greek). The thanato/necro distinction is crucial in everyday circumstances since the politics of death is often described using the necro- prefix — and while death and dead bodies are obviously connected, the politics surrounding each remains unique and should be distinguished from one another. Dead body politics and death politics occupy distinct experiences for the average person, and recognizing the difference between what death is and what a dead body is remains profoundly important for medicine, the law, and everyday decision making in places such as hospices.

In my book “Technologies of the Human Corpse” I devote the entirety of a chapter to discussing precisely these distinctions between the bio, thanato, and necro, since the politics of each remains simultaneously always visible (if you know where to look) and completely hidden. The book manuscript was completed in 2019, before Covid-19, but spends many pages discussing the ways AIDS both impacted and significantly changed how funeral directors handled dead bodies, e.g., personal protective equipment, or PPE, an acronym we’re all sadly familiar with by now.

By discussing the thanatopolitics of the early AIDS epidemic (which is still happening, lest anyone forgets), it is easy to see how the Covid-19 pandemic ticks all the boxes as to what contemporary thanatopolitics relies on: social and economic disadvantages that contribute to higher mortality rates, especially in brown and black communities; hundreds of thousands of people dying entirely preventable deaths in populations that become economically acceptable deaths (e.g., the elderly and disabled); access to life-saving medical treatments that significantly favor wealthy communities and nations, and so on.

Where Covid-19 thanatopolitics morphed into something I had not predicted was when the emergence of what I call virological determinism became the logic that almost every local, national, and global governing body used to lay blame for preexisting societal problems. This is a gloss on technological determinism, the tendency we humans have to blame any “technology” for causing our very human-created problems, and works much the same way. By taking a rapidly-out-of-control pandemic and mixing in contemporary health inequalities and unprepared — and sometimes negligible — political leaders, we in the West ended up in this thanatopolitical quagmire.

I say quagmire, since it is unclear right now if and when any of this will actually be “done” no matter the speed with which people want to move on. But there are lessons to be learned, and in this way, thanatopolitics can be extremely productive and useful.

The politics of death become a way to acknowledge all those who died and what should be done in the future to prevent more needless deaths. One of those key lessons includes governmental leaders both knowing about pre-existing pandemic response plans and then using those plans when responding to a non-stop mass fatality event such as Covid-19. In addition to following the already extant response plans, leaders should continue to update and renew those plans on a regular basis. HIV/AIDS taught the world how quickly a virus could adapt to everything we threw at it. I remain hopeful that we reflect on that lesson in the coming decades.

Understanding how a person died is often laden with political questions around access to care, medical ethics, and economic stability.

On March 18, 2020, I flew on a plane from the UK (where I normally live) to my hometown in Wisconsin to help my parents with some health issues. I did not know it then, but this was one of the last planes to make that trans-Atlantic flight for many months due to the pandemic.

On the flight, I read an incisive essay by Michael Specter in the New Yorker on the cascading failures of the U.S. health care system. It ends with the following prediction that presciently understood the who-lives-and-who-dies thanatopolitics that defined the past 18 months: “The bigger question is whether we will learn from the fact that this [Covid-19] pandemic will kill many more people than it had to. I’d like to think we would, but, if the past is any guide, this pandemic will end with a bunch of new commissions and ominous reports. As soon as they are printed, they will be forgotten.”

We can choose to ignore death and the thanatopolitics that choice brings for future body counts. But if Covid-19 has demonstrated anything it is that we do so at our own peril.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Some Scientists Think Consciousness Persists After Death

We should not assume that people who are near death do not know what we are saying

A very significant change that happened in the last century or so has been the ability of science professionals to see what happens when people are thinking, especially under traumatic conditions.

It was not a good moment for materialist theories. Here is one finding (there are many others): Death is a process, usually, not simply an event.

Consciousness can persists after clinical death. A more accurate way of putting things might be that the brain is able to host consciousness for a short period after clinical death. Some notes on recent findings:

The short answer is, probably, yes:

Recent studies have shown that animals experience a surge in brain activity in the minutes after death. And people in the first phase of death may still experience some form of consciousness, [Sam] Parnia said. Substantial anecdotal evidence reveals that people whose hearts stopped and then restarted were able to describe accurate, verified accounts of what was going on around them, he added.

“They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working; they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them,” he explained. According to Parnia, these recollections were then verified by medical and nursing staff who were present at the time and were stunned to hear that their patients, who were technically dead, could remember all those details.

Mindy Weisberger, “Are ‘Flatliners’ really conscious after death?” at LiveScience (October 4, 2017)

Death is probably, in most cases, a process rather than a single event:

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Some scientists have studied near death experiences (NDEs) to try to gain insights into how death overcomes the brain. What they’ve found is remarkable, a surge of electricity enters the brain moments before brain death. One 2013 study out of the University of Michigan, which examined electrical signals inside the heads of rats, found they entered a hyper-alert state just before death.

Philip Perry, “After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists” at BigThink (October 24, 2017)

Despite claims, current science does not do a very good job of explaining human experience just before death:

Researchers have also explained near-death experiences via cerebral anoxia, a lack of oxygen to the brain. One researcher found air pilots who experienced unconsciousness during rapid acceleration described near-death experience-like features, such as tunnel vision. Lack of oxygen may also trigger temporal lobe seizures which causes hallucinations. These may be similar to a near-death experience.

But the most widespread explanation for near-death experiences is the dying brain hypothesis. This theory proposes that near-death experiences are hallucinations caused by activity in the brain as cells begin to die. As these occur during times of crisis, this would explain the stories survivors recount. The problem with this theory, though plausible, is that it fails to explain the full range of features that may occur during near-death experiences, such as why people have out-of-body experiences.

Neal Dagnall and Ken Drinkwater, “Are near-death experiences hallucinations? Experts explain the science behind this puzzling phenomenon” at The Conversation (December 4, 2018)

Such explanations are a classic case of adapting a materialist hypothesis to fit whatever has happened. They don’t explain, for example, terminal lucidity, where many people suddenly gain clarity about life.

Research medic Sam Parnia found, for example, that, of 2000 patients with cardiac arrest,

Some died during the process. But of those who survived, up to 40 percent had a perception of having some form of awareness during the time when they were in a state of cardiac arrest. Yet they weren’t able to specify more details.

Cathy Cassata, “We May Still Be Conscious After We Die” at Healthline (September 24, 2018) The paper requires a subscription.

So we should not assume that people who are on the way out cannot understand us. Maybe they can — and would like to hear that they are still loved and will be missed.

Complete Article HERE!

Seattle startup Lalo is latest ‘death tech’ innovator, with an app to share and collect stories and more

by

Juan Medina first considered the idea for his new startup back in 2003, after the death of his father, when his wife asked him to tell a story about his dad and Medina realized he hadn’t known him all that well. Stories, jokes, recipes and more were either lost or scattered across various friends and family, Medina said.

The idea resurfaced in the last couple years as Medina’s own daughter, now 9, said she never really met her grandparents. Medina decided to launch his startup Lalo — also his dad’s nickname — with the mission of giving people a private, digital space to connect, share stories and hold on to precious memories.

Currently operating as a small, private beta, Lalo is an app that facilitates the collection of digital content such as images, video, voice, text and more. Away from the noise and common pitfalls of traditional social media platforms, groups are intentionally kept small to foster increased trust and privacy. Imagine family members gathering to collect the best recipes in one space or share images that might have been lost to an unseen photo album.

“It’s a space to capture those more important family memories, the Sunday phone call from the grandkids to the grandparents where they can say, ‘Grandpa, tell me about a time … ,’  Medina said.

Lalo plans to make money by charging $25 a year for a subscription to the ad-free app, with multiple people being able to have access to a space for that price. Medina said the idea is optimized for smaller groups of 10 to 15 people and over-biased on privacy.

“You’re not going to get pinged by your middle-school friend, like, ‘Hey, join my account,’” he said.

Medina is also working on securing the permanence of the data, potentially with a blockchain solution or other ways to archive the material for the long, digital haul. He views his competitors as traditional social media such as Facebook where people are trading images and stories today, or more story-focused offerings such StoryCorps on NPR, or StoryWorth.

The idea brushes up against the wave of innovation falling into the “death tech” category, where startups are reimagining everything around traditional end-of-life and funeral industry practices with ideas involving body composting, cremation services and casket purchases.

Lalo users don’t have to focus on a recent or impending loss of a loved one, but Medina does believe the app can be a helpful tool in the grieving process.

Before trying his hand at his own startup, Medina spent a little over eight years at Amazon working on assorted tech, building things from scratch and understanding how to build things quickly. The decision to leave and start Lalo came with some apprehension.

“I’m married, I have a daughter, we have a mortgage. Walking away from that steady income that I’ve had my whole life was scary,” Medina said. “But it’s been amazing. I’ve loved it. It’s been great doing what I love, something I’m passionate about.”

And interest from different angel investors as well as funding from Lalo’s first institutional investor has eased some concerns about the long-term viability of the idea. Columbus, Ohio-based VC firm Overlooked Ventures announced earlier this month that Lalo was its first investment, and founding partner Janine Sickmeyer wrote of the startup, “No amount of technology can ease the pain of losing someone you love, but having better ways to grieve can help people cope and stay connected to mourn the loss together.”

Medina didn’t share how much money Lalo raised in pre-seed funding. The company incorporated at the end of 2020 and got moving in March after Medina left Amazon.

Lalo currently employs eight people and was among 30 startups selected for Washington Technology Industry Association’s sixth Founder Cohort Program, announced in August. The plan is to come out of beta in early 2022.

Complete Article HERE!

Assisted dying around the world

By Bob Roehr

Assisted dying goes by a variety of names from country to country.1 These are often chosen to shape public discourse, and the weight of different factors varies by country.

The practice is less likely in places and cultures that look more to family and society to make healthcare decisions, often to the point of shielding a patient from knowledge of a diagnosis and treatment options. Even in the western world, it’s not that long ago that patients were sometimes not told that they had terminal cancer.

The cost of care is often part of the debate: in many high income countries the government, or patients themselves through insurance, bear most or at least part of the direct costs of care. Religion is another: some religious groups are among the most potent foes of the right to die, and in countries where such groups provide a significant part of medical care they can wield an effective veto over such legislation.

Australia

The first person in the world to die under a specific law on the right to die was Bob Dent, in 1995 in Darwin, northern Australia. Two years later the Australian parliament took the highly unusual step of overturning the territorial law that had allowed the procedure.

In 2017 the state of Victoria passed a law on voluntary assisted dying based on the “Oregon model” that had emerged in the US (see “United States” below). Western Australia passed a similar law in 2018 that is now in effect, followed more recently by Tasmania (in 2019, to take effect in October 2022) and South Australia (in June 2021, with regulations and a start date yet to be decided).

Advocates expect that Queensland will vote for similar legislation in September 2021. New South Wales, which has about a third of the country’s population, “will be a tough nut to crack” because of the strong influence of religious forces in the state, says Marshall Perron, a political leader who sponsored the initial legislation in the Northern Territory.

Canada

The Medical Assistance in Dying law2 in Canada sprang from a 2015 high court ruling that assisted dying was a basic human right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which forms part of the national constitution. It ordered the legislature to decriminalise assisted dying and create an implementation structure, much of which would reside in the provinces as administrators of healthcare. The initial 2016 law faced immediate legal challenges for being too restrictive, and in 2021 the court again referred the matter back to the legislature for remedy.

A major element of the new law is allowing medical assistance in dying on the basis of mental health issues. It gives jurisdictions until March 2023 to create regulatory mechanisms for requests based solely on mental health issues.

Colombia

In 1997 the Colombian Supreme Court set out the rights of a terminally ill person to engage in voluntary euthanasia. The health ministry issued guidelines in July 2021 that require a voluntary request, which may be through an advance directive, and a procedure for review.

Germany

The situation in Germany over the past decade has been confusing. In 2014 its courts declared that “passive euthanasia” was legal, but a year later the legislature also criminalised “assisted suicide,” with little clarity over the difference.

Then in February 2020, Germany’s highest court ruled that a person’s right to self-determination allowed for the right to die. As a part of this, assistance is allowed for altruistic motives, but concern has focused on assisted dying becoming a treatment option that could become a business.

How all of this will be regulated is still subject to much debate and may depend on the outcome of federal elections this autumn.

Japan

The legal status of both euthanasia and withholding treatment at the end of life are ill defined under the law in Japan. In July 2020 two doctors were charged with murder for helping a woman with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to end her life.

The pair were later separately charged with murder for the earlier death of one of the men’s fathers, who had been terminally ill. The arrests and pending trials have revived discussion of a “death with dignity” bill in the legislature.

Netherlands

In 2001 the Netherlands passed a law that broadly allows voluntary euthanasia. A doctor must certify that the patient is suffering “unbearably without hope” from a physical or mental condition. It is allowed for people as young as 12 years of age. Regulations have been tightened to assure that patients are competent to make such decisions.

Neighbouring countries have since brought in similar policies: Belgium followed in 2002 by legalising voluntary euthanasia but not physician assisted suicide. In Luxembourg both practices have been active since 2009 despite initial royal objections.

New Zealand

The End of Life Choice Bill was enacted by the New Zealand parliament in 2019 and ratified by a public referendum in 2020, with 65.2% of the vote. The bill will take effect in November 2021.3<

Portugal

The legislature in Portugal passed a bill in March 2021 permitting assisted dying, and the president asked the constitutional court to rule on its legitimacy before signing it. However, the court found the measure imprecise and thus unconstitutional. The legislature is considering revision of the bill’s language to fall within guidance offered by the court.

Spain

Since 2002 a series of laws and public cases in Spain have expanded the rights of patients to refuse and discontinue treatment, dubbed “passive suicide.” Facing opposition from the Catholic Church and many medical professional organisations, but with overwhelming public support, the legislature passed a law allowing “physician assisted suicide,” which took effect in July 2021 and is largely modelled on the Netherlands’ approach.4

Sweden

A 2015 law gave patients in Sweden the right to participate in any medical decision, while physicians may not legally object to any procedure, including assisted dying. However, the legal ambiguity arising from a lack of regulations has contributed to there being few assisted deaths in the country.

Switzerland

Switzerland has no specific legislation outlawing or permitting assisted dying, but the practice has generally been allowed since 1937 under the Swiss Criminal Code, which allows for it under a person’s constitutional right so long as the people providing the assistance don’t have “selfish motives.” A physician must evaluate the candidate to assure soundness of mind, but there is no requirement of terminal illness.

Switzerland remains one of the few countries that allow foreigners to gain access to assisted dying, and a handful of groups have emerged to assist locals and foreigners in the process. One established provider says that about 60% of its foreign users come from Germany and 30% from the UK, paying $7500-$12 000 (£5440-£8700; €6330-€10 120) depending on the services provided.

United States

Assisted dying (or “medical aid in dying,” as it’s generally referred to in US legislation) came into effect in the state of Oregon in 1997.

“The laws require the person to be an adult, mentally capable and/or have a terminal prognosis of six months or less, and to self-ingest the medication, so they can change their mind at any time in the process,” says Sean Crowley, a spokesman for Compassion & Choices, which led the struggle in Oregon and is a leading voice nationally.

The Oregon model has been followed in eight other states—California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington—as well as in Washington, DC. A Montana court struck down restrictions on assisted suicide, but no implementing regulations have been created.5

Complete Article HERE!