William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Tuesday, 11, May, 2010

You Say That Like That’s a Bad Thing.

Filed under: Medicine — williamthecoroner @ 11:30

tgace posts a story from Wired magazine…

Ralph Keeney wants to improve our lives—by making us confront our deaths. In a recent study published in the journal Operations Research, Keeney, a decision analyst at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, crunched data from the Centers for Disease Control to assess how many deaths in the US are due to personal choices—things like smoking, overeating, or unsafe sex. The results: A remarkable 55 percent of deaths for people age 15 to 64 can be attributed to decisions with readily available alternatives. In other words, most people are the agents of their own demise. That’s a vast difference from a century ago, when, Keeney estimates, a scant 5 percent of deaths were brought on by personal decisions (infectious diseases account for most of the rest).

And here I post my comment: So what? In 1900 infectious diseases accounted for most people’s deaths. Add in the problems with obstetrical care, changes in surgery, the average age at death was about 40. While this is better than the subsistence farmer of the middle ages (where the average age at death was about 25) it is only slightly better than the population statisics for hunter-gatherer populations, which is age 36. In the US today, the average age of death is, what 80 now?

The death rate will always be 100%. Keeney is putting accidents in the “brought on by personal decisions” category. And one must be careful taking statistics from the population to the personal. Smoking is bad for you. I don’t think anyone in the United States doesn’t know that now. As a population, smokers get sick and die earlier. Does that mean one individual smoker will have a shortened life span–I know people who smoke all their lives and beat the odds–so, no. I also know clean-living, healthy, children whose parents protect them and then they get a Wilm’s tumor.



  1. Excellent points William, we are 100% going to die… period, end of subject… I’d rather live and ‘enjoy’ life than walk around scared to death everything I’m doing is taking days, months, years off my life.

    Comment by Old NFO — Tuesday, 11, May, 2010 @ 20:35 | Reply

  2. This seems like an extension of the “blaming the patient” game that sometimes occurs, often by the patient themselves (“oh, if only I hadn’t done X, then I wouldn’t have cancer”). Clearly (tongue firmly in cheek), if peoples’ deaths are their own fault, then we’re not responsible for finding a cure. Maybe we’re not even responsible for treating them – after all, they clearly knew the consequences of their actions, so why should we help them out?

    Comment by Chilimuffin — Wednesday, 12, May, 2010 @ 09:34 | Reply

  3. The thing that people always forget to mention about eating right, exercising, not smoking, avoiding red meat, etc. is that the years it adds to your life are tacked on at the end, when you’re ready to die anyway. Yeah, don’t do anything stupid that will make a long section of life miserable, but if you can’t enjoy the life you’ve got, why are you bothering anyway?

    Brought to you by the local Carpe Diem association. 🙂

    Comment by PhillipC — Thursday, 13, May, 2010 @ 20:42 | Reply

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