Archives for death



The Troubled Cremation of Stevie the Cat: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

If there’s a death in your family and you choose to have your loved one cremated, wouldn’t you expect that the remains that are returned to you belong specifically to your beloved? Of course you would!

Would you expect the same if the dearly departed happens to be the family pet? I suspect the answer is still yes. But in the fast-growing pet-cremation business, how do you know that the remains you’re getting back are indeed from your pet?

That’s the question we ask in our latest podcast, “The Troubled Cremation of Stevie the Cat.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

According to government statistics, there are well over 200 million pets in America, not counting pet fish. (Why government statistics don’t include fish — we don’t know; maybe that’s an episode for another day.) And we spend a lot of money on these pets, about $61 billion a year. One area that is growing very fast: pet “aftercare.” The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAPCC) tells us that ten years ago, only a handful of places specialized in pet aftercare. Today, there are more than 700 pet funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries. (Or, as Bloomberg Businessweek puts it, “There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Dead Pet.”) With so much money being spent, and with death being so fraught with emotion and mystery, might there be some misbehavior going on?   Read More »



Speaking Very Ill of the Dead

In our “Legacy of a Jerk” podcast, we discussed (among other things) the injunction against speaking ill of the dead. It featured an interview with a daughter of a woman named Carole Roberson, whose obituary stated that she was “a difficult mother and a horrendous mother-in-law.” That said, the obituary also said that “she will STILL be missed.”

Several readers have now sent us this A.P. article about an obituary for a Nevada woman named Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick. She makes Carole Roberson sounds like an angel.

“On behalf of her children who she abrasively exposed to her evil and violent life, we celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after-life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty and shame that she delivered on her children,” the scathing obituary begins. … [It] was written by Johnson-Reddick’s adult children, whose horror stories prompted Nevada to become one of the first states to allow children to sever parental ties back in the 1980s. …

Read More »



How to Live Longer: a New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “How to Live Longer.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player in the post, or read the transcript below.)

It looks into why Hall of Fame inductees, Oscar winners, and Nobel laureates seem to outlive their peers. The deeper question in the podcast concerns the relationship between status (not income!) and longevity — a fascinating, complex, and controversial topic (here’s a good place to start reading) about which I believe we’ll hear a great deal in years to come. It will be valuable to know what kind of “status boosts” confer health advantages and, conversely, how disappointment and the like can chip away at us.

This podcast was timed to coincide with two events this week: the annual Baseball Hall of Fame election, in which no players were selected this year for the first time since 1996 (here’s ESPN’s take and here’s a useful statistical snapshot); and the announcement of this year’s Oscar nominees. Read More »



Is There Another Side to the “Hurricane Death Toll”?

Miguel Sancho, a senior producer with ABC’s 20/20, writes in with a question I’ve often wondered myself but cannot answer. Can you?

A thought – every hurricane season we see headlines ascribing blame for lives lost on a given storm. “Hurricane Irene Blamed for Five Deaths in North Carolina,” etc. Certainly when people drown, are killed by floating debris, or die because they can’t make it to the hospital, the statistic sounds logical. But it occurred to me that perhaps, in the interests of fairness and accuracy, we should also give Hurricanes “credit” for lives not lost thanks to the interruption of normal human activity. How many homicides, vehicular fatalities, or drug overdoses didn’t happen [last] week in New Orleans, for example, because people were otherwise occupied protecting themselves from Hurricane Isaac? Just wondering if anyone has ever studied this, comparing average morbidity rates in hurricane zones to the stats during the times when hurricanes roll through.
 
This is not to suggest that overall, hurricanes are a social good. Bastiat’s broken-windows fallacy and all that. But perhaps in this one particular metric, we aren’t seeing the whole picture.

Please don’t judge Sancho’s observation as insensitive to the death and destruction caused by the hurricane itself. I can assure you he is not.



The Season of Death: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “The Season of Death.” The gist: Summertime brings far too many fatal accidents. But the numbers may surprise you.

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

If you’re a longtime reader, you probably already have an idea of what we’re talking about. Human beings are, in general, quite bad at assessing risk. We tend to be scared of big, noisy, anomalous events – like shark attacks, which in an average year kill fewer than five people worldwide — while overlooking the seemingly quotidian reality of, say, drowning deaths (about 4,000 per year in the U.S. alone) and motorcycle fatalities (about 4,500 U.S. deaths annually). We have been exploring this idea since Freakonomics, where we asked whether a gun or a swimming pool is more “dangerous.” Read More »



The Silver Lining of More Cancer Deaths

A National Post graphic does a good job showing causes of death across Canada by percentage, and notes that, for the first time, cancer is the leading cause in every province, responsible for about 30 percent of all deaths. That is a heartbreaking number, not least because cancer is a disease (or set of diseases, really) about which so much is still unknown.

As we wrote in a section of SuperFreakonomics called “We’re still getting our butts kicked by cancer,” seeing cancer statistics like this might naturally lead one to conclude that the “war on cancer” has been a dismal failure. That, however, would be an overstatement. While it’s true that we are, as one oncologist told us, “still getting our butts kicked,” there is somewhat of a silver lining in the cancer death rate. Read More »



Why Do Elected Coroners Underreport Suicide?

The WSJ reports on a new study that finds that elected coroners report 15% fewer suicides than do appointed medical examiners. The researchers looked at 1,578 counties with elected coroners, and 1,036 with appointed medical examiners, adjusting for poverty, marriage, household income, education levels and gun ownership. Their reasoning for the difference in reporting? Stigma and politics:

“Elected coroners would feel pressure because they are elected by the public at large and would be worried about antagonizing local community stakeholders who might badmouth them,” said Joshua Klugman, PhD, first author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Temple University in Philadelphia. “For medical examiners, we think the pressure is still there, but it’s to a lesser degree. They feel insulated from that.”

In addition, the researchers looked at 174 appointed coroners and found that their reporting rate matched the medical examiners, instead of the elected coroners.

In general, suicide is a taboo subject. But not too taboo for us — if you haven’t already downloaded our latest podcast, do so and find out about “The Suicide Paradox.”



Your End of Days: Would Life-Length Testing Save the Government Money?

A Spanish company announced this summer that it can help determine when people will die by using a blood sample, a $700 test, and research that earned three American geneticists the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2009. Though the test has its critics, and though it won’t offer an exact date for one’s death, it does promise to reduce uncertainty about longevity by examining a tiny part of DNA that reveals biological age as opposed to chronological age. Successive generations of the test are likely to improve in predictive power.

Our ignorance about an individual’s longevity is the source of a number of problems. Many of them are personal, but some have implications for society writ large, and taxpayers in particular. So one wonders: if the government can make you confront the calorie content of your diet, can it also make you confront your mortality?

If the government were to mandate “life length” testing, it could help resolve the intractable lifetime savings problem. Pervasive under-saving among households is a result of our impatience, to be sure, but it is certainly also a consequence of the fact that no one knows how long his savings need to last. Save too much and you miss out on having fun when you’re alive. Save too little and you end up broke and reliant on the social safety net that taxpayers fund. Read More »