New Under the Sun:
Volume 2, Issue 9
Greetings!! Since none of us will be around in the 23rd century, this is the month to enjoy a once-in-many-lifetimes look at Mars in its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. We have long had a fascination with Mars and with the idea of finding evidence of life there. Given what we know at present, anything beyond deeply-buried microbial life seems improbable. Life is fragile and requires just the right conditions to prosper. Make a commitment to yourself to practice healthy behaviors so that your fragile life will be as long and fulfilling as is possible.
Euthanasia and the Grieving Process: Euthanasia, or assisted suicide, has been informally practiced in the Netherlands since about 1978, and since 1993 it could be practiced without fear of prosecution. In April, 2002 (bill passed in April, 2001), euthanasia became legal (under certain conditions) in the Netherlands. There are an average of 3200 registered cases of euthanasia each year, with a significant portion of those being physician-assisted. In 80% of these cases, the individual was terminally ill with cancer. Researchers in Utrecht decided to analyze how type of death, euthanasia or natural, affected the grieving process of the family and friends who were with the deceased when he/she died.
Between 1992 and 1999, 95 patients (94% with cancer) at the University Medical Center of Utrecht died by euthanasia. The researchers matched each of these patients to two control patients who died of natural causes. They then contacted relatives and close friends of the deceased patients inviting them to participate in the study. Participation involved answering eight detailed questionnaires on grief, traumatic grief, post-traumatic stress reactions, general well-being, depressive moods, self-confidence, neuroticism, and a general questionnaire asking such things as whether one was able to say goodbye to the deceased and whether others showed enough support. Given how much information was asked of the study participants, the researchers had an amazing return response rate of 72% for relatives and friends of cancer patients who died by euthanasia and a 66% return rate for relatives and friends of cancer patients who died from natural causes.
Although for most of the measures there was a non-significant difference between the two groups, the bereaved of patients who died by euthanasia were significantly less likely to experience traumatic grief and were significantly more likely to have lower overall problem symptoms associated with the grieving process. While not a plea for euthanasia, the researchers state that three factors ease the transition for the bereaved. The most important factor in reducing stress associated with the grieving process is the ability to say goodbye to the patient, whether the patient dies naturally or by euthanasia. Preparation for imminent death is necessary, something more easily achieved with euthanasia. And, finally, talking openly about imminent death is important for both the patient and his/her relatives and friends. When these three factors are in play, the grieving process is less traumatic and adverse symptoms are reduced. Nikkie B Swarte, Marije L van der Lee, Johanna G van der Bom, Jan van den Bout, A Peter M Heintz Effects of euthanasia on the bereaved family and friends: a cross sectional study. BMJ 2003;327:189-93.
Hemophilia Carriers and Heart Disease: There are many genetic diseases that remain in populations despite usually causing early death in those affected. Each individual has two forms of a gene, one form received from his/her mother and the other from his/her father. Those affected by a genetic disease have received defective copies of a gene from both parents. Before modern health care, effected individuals would die prior to reproducing and passing on their genes. Therefore, it would seem that natural selection would eliminate these diseases from the population. However, in many of these diseases, research is finding evidence that those who have only one copy of a defective gene, that is, those who are carriers of the trait, actually may have a survival advantage, in certain conditions, over those who have two non-defective genes. For instance, it is well-established that carriers of the sickle cell hemoglobin gene have higher rates of survival in malarial environments than do those with normal hemoglobin genes. There is some evidence that carriers of Tay-Sachs have higher survivability in areas where tuberculosis is common. And carriers of cystic fibrosis may do better during cholera epidemics. Now carriers of hemophilia are added to this list.
The defective copy of the gene associated with hemophilia prevents appropriate coagulation of the blood. While this is a serious issue in those with two defective copies since even a minor cut can be life-threatening, for those with only one defective copy, reduced coagulation may actually be beneficial. Researchers in the Netherlands (again!) examined the medical records of every mother (1012) of every known hemophiliac living in the country. The causes of death for the deceased mothers were compared to the cause-specific average death rates for the general Dutch female population. The carriers, women who had one defective copy of the gene for hemophilia, were significantly less likely to have died from ischemic/coronary heart disease (36% reduction) than was true for the average Dutch woman. In addition, the overall mortality rate of carriers was 22% lower than average. Blood clots can be a major problem for those with narrowed arteries. Since carriers are less likely to suffer from blood clots, their probability of dying from CHD is much reduced. Once again, a genetic disorder that is highly lethal when both copies are defective, can be protective when the individual has one normal and one defective copy. “Defective” is evidently a relative term. A Srámek, M Kriek, FR Rosendaal Decreased mortality of ischaemic heart disease among carriers of haemophilia. Lancet 2003;362:351-354.
Book Review: This month two books are reviewed since both are quick reads and both are on the topic of improving your attitude to improve your life. The first book is The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: The Four Essential Principles by Richard Wiseman, PhD. Wiseman’s research into the psychology of luck found that luck isn’t magical and lucky people don’t have ESP. The major difference between those who are lucky and those who are not lucky is in their attitude towards life. Lucky individuals tend to have a positive and optimistic outlook while those who are unlucky tend to focus on the negative. Using case histories of lucky and unlucky individuals, Wiseman illustrates his four principles in an entertaining and direct way.
Although reading the book is the best way to fully grasp the importance of what Wiseman’s research found, the four principles will be briefly mentioned here. The first principle is to “Maximize Your Chance Opportunities: Lucky people create, notice, and act upon chance opportunities in their lives.” [p. 31] Wiseman found, much to his amazement, that unlucky individuals literally do not see what is right in front of their noses. They are so inner-focused that they miss what is happening around them. The second principle is to “Listen to Your Lucky Hunches: Lucky people make successful decisions by using their intuition and gut feelings.” [p.63] Lucky people do not ignore logical analysis in their decision making. However, they realize that their subconscious is also actively processing all available data. Therefore, when making a decision, lucky people balance both the conscious and subconscious analyses. They listen to their hunches. The third principle is to “Expect Good Fortune: Lucky people’s expectations about the future help them fulfill their dreams and ambitions.” [p. 89] Wiseman found that self-fulfilling prophecies are very powerful. If you expect bad things to happen, they probably will. If you expect good things to happen, they probably will. And if, despite expectations, bad things do happen, persevere towards your goals. The final principle is to “Turn Bad Luck into Good: Lucky people are able to transform their bad luck into good fortune.” [p. 128] This might be called the “Silver Lining” principle: what seems like bad luck today could turn out to be the very best thing that could have happened. Wiseman concludes his book by stating: “When it comes to luck, the future is in your hands. And it starts right now.” [p. 192]
The second book is The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It by David Niven, PhD. The “secrets” in this book are culled by Niven from a wide variety of academic studies done on the topic of happiness (what it is how and how to achieve and maintain it) that were published in major scientific journals. Niven distills a study to its essence and presents it to the reader in a 1- 2 page format. The title of each of the 100 tiny chapters is a “secret” which he then clarifies in a bit more detail, often using a case study to emphasize his point. For instance, Chapter 34 is “It’s not what happened, it’s how you think about what happened. There is no objective way to tell if you have had a good life, a good day, or a good hour. Your life is a success based only upon your judgment.” [p. 65] This “secret” is in definite agreement with Principle Four from Wiseman’s book. Two “secrets” that will seem especially familiar to readers of AnthroHealth News are found in Chapters 44 and 54. Chapter 44: “Eat some fruit every day. Fruit eaters feel good about what they eat, are less interested in eating junk food, and ultimately feel better about themselves.” [p. 85] Chapter 54: “Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t skimp on sleep. A full night’s rest is fuel for the following day. Rested people feel they work better and are more comfortable when the day is over. “ Chapter 84’s “secret” is to “Focus not on the world’s tragedies, but on the world’s hope. Many sad things happen in our world, but rather than focusing on them, have hope for the future. Think of the world’s potential. Perhaps the future holds the curing of diseases, the end of violence, the amelioration of poverty and hunger. “ [p. 160] And going back to lucky Chapter 13, Niven notes “Be open to new ideas. Never stop learning and adapting. The world will always be changing. If you limit yourself to what you knew and what you were comfortable with earlier in your life, you will grow increasingly frustrated with your surroundings as you age.” [p. 25]
Both books are great reads chock full of life-enhancing advice. Even the busiest person can find time each day to read a chapter or two of 100 Simple Secrets.
AnthroHealth Tip of the Month: Focus on the luck and happiness in your life. Make an effort to increase both by developing a more positive attitude. Reading both of the books reviewed this month will definitely help. If something bad happens, try to reframe the event. Don’t dismiss the advice to focus on the positive as “Pollyannaish”. Happy people are healthier people who live longer, more satisfying lives.
© 2001-2009 Kathleen E. Fuller, PhD. All rights reserved.