The last NFL season was dominated by worries about concussions and other head injuries more than any before, but it ended on an upbeat note when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers shook off two regular season concussions to win Super Bowl MVP honors. But after the bright lights go down, the long-term effects of brain injuries linger in the dark. And no one, it seems, knew that better than Dave Duerson.
Duerson played 11 seasons as a battering ram, a safety for the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Last week he committed suicide, thrusting the worries about the long-term consequences of repeated blows to the head back into the spotlight.
When the 50-year-old former NFL safety and successful entrepreneur shot himself in the chest, there was another purpose: so that his brain could be donated to Boston University researchers and studied to assess the life-long neurological effects of playing in the National Football League. [Wired]
According to reports, Duerson made sure to get his final message across. He texted family members on the day of his death that he wanted his brain to go to the center, and to be sure he was heard, he left behind a paper note reading “Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL’s brain bank.”
Since its emergence in the early 1980s, the drug isotretinoin—used to treat severe acne and sold under a host of different brand names—has been subject to controversy over whether it increases the incidence of suicide attempts in those who take it. But sorting out whether the drug, the acne itself, or some other factor is driving increased suicide risk is quite difficult.
So for a study out in the British Medical Journal, a team of researchers in Sweden looked at a deluge of data for 5,756 people who took the drug. Their conclusion: Severe acne patients who took isotretinoin had an increased risk for suicide attempts both before and after taking it, so they can’t definitively link isotretinoin to suicide.
The drug, perhaps best known as the pharmaceutical company Roche’s Accutane, has been embraced by dermatologists and their suffering patients, but has also been dogged by controversy for its side effects.
While powerful at clearing acne, the drug has been linked to birth defects if taken during pregnancy and has also been suspected of causing mental side effects, although Roche has vigorously defended personal injury claims in this area. [Reuters]
Anders Sundstrom led the current research, which seems to support the theory that the pharmaceutical isn’t a threat to mental health. Said Sundstrom:
One thing we might have to look forward to should we fall deeper into a recession—a boost in public health. Americans were healthier during the Great Depression than the stronger economic periods surrounding the slump, according to a surprising new study.
Researchers studied life expectancies, mortality rates, GDP, and unemployment rates from 1920 to 1940. The team found an inverse association between economic health and population health: Life expectancy fell during economic upturns and increased during recessions. Mortality, meanwhile, tended to rise during economic upturns and fall during recessions. Deaths related to flu and pneumonia, for example, fell from about 150 per 100,000 people in 1929 to roughly 100 per 100,000 people in 1930, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [ScienceNOW Daily News].
The researchers won’t say for sure why this is, but they offer several theories. When the economy is growing, people tend to sleep less and smoke and drink more. They also engage in more strenuous labor, endure more work stress and breathe more polluted air. Traffic and industrial accidents rise [Los Angeles Times]. The one exception, of course, is suicides. As times get harder suicides go up, but during the time period studied they accounted for less than 2 percent of all deaths.
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Image: flickr / Tony the Misfit
One of Britain’s best-known orchestra conductors and his wife have ended their lives at an assisted suicide facility, reigniting the debate over assisted suicide. Helping someone die is a criminal offense in Britain, so Sir Edward Downes, 85, traveled to a “right-to-die” facility near Zurich with his 74-year-old wife, Joan, who had terminal cancer.
Under Britain’s Assisted Suicide Act, helping someone kill him- or herself can bring a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. In Switzerland, however, assisted suicide is legal; the Downeses were not the first Britons who traveled there to legally commit assisted suicide. Since the Zurich clinic run by [the non-profit group] Dignitas was established in 1998 under Swiss laws that allow clinics to provide lethal drugs, British authorities have effectively turned a blind eye to Britons who go there to die…. None of the family members and friends who have accompanied the 117 people living in Britain who have traveled to the Zurich clinic for help in ending their lives have been charged with an offense [The New York Times]. Experts say it’s unlikely that this will change in the case of the Downses’ children, who potentially assisted in their parents’ suicide by traveling with them to the Zurich facility. Still, the fact remains that the couple’s children could potentially be charged with a crime for their involvement in the suicide.
Washington state’s “death with dignity” law goes into effect today, making Washington the second state in the nation to allow terminally ill people to hasten their own deaths. The state’s voters approved the assisted suicide initiative by a broad margin in a November vote. Modeled closely on a decade-old Oregon law, it allows physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients determined to have six months or less to live [Seattle Times].
In a nod towards the controversial nature of assisted suicide, the new law does not compel all hospitals and doctors to help their patients die. An opt-out provision for hospitals was included, partly for the sake of health care providers affiliated with religious groups like the Roman Catholic Church, though many nonreligious hospitals have also invoked it. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a faith-based decision,” said Julie Petersen, the administrator of one public hospital that will not participate, Prosser Memorial, in a rural area of eastern Washington. “I think it’s probably more a reflection of the community” [The New York Times].
But while the new law was expected to go into practice without much fuss in Washington, across the country in Georgia several “right-to-die” activists were arrested for helping a 58-year-old man kill himself.