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I’m very lucky to have access to experiences which most people will never see.  As part of my training I have dissected bodies and observed postmortums, both of which teach students about essential anatomy.

Mortuary slabs reveal just how unpredictable and unfair death can be. Image: todmaffin

Whilst doing so they also give an invaluable insight into death, death is random and unpredictable, we all think we will make it to the UK’s average life expectancy of 79.4 years of age, but as the mortutay slabs will tell you, not all of us will.

Death is incredibly upsetting because it has no conscious, it takes everybody: babies, children, pregnant women, young parents, absolutely anybody can die at any age.

I have seen the bodies of people just twice my age, and I’m only 25.  I have seen the blackened lungs of heavy smokers, the fatty organs of the obese and the huge hearts of the hypertensive.

We spend millions on health promotion a year, but blimey march a few smokers and junk food addicts into the morgue and after setting eyes on a cold dead body with organs so diseased they lie dead at such a young age and I’d dare anybody to continue their habit.

The dying are hidden from society

But people don’t see death, it’s seperated from us, when a friend or an acquaintence starts to die they are taken away from society, they die at home, in a hospice or in a hospital with just their very closesst family around them.

Only the minority of the population who have watched somebody die know what it’s really like, and it couldn’t be further from the Hollywood death we are used to seeing in the movies.

To die your body needs to shut down, your organs need to stop working and your body processes need to cease, in the majority of cases you don’t go from talking dearly to your loved ones to death, there is a lot of detioration inbetween.

As soon as a death happens, we go back to the open process, beautiful flowers surround a carved wooden box, the relatives are distracted from the pain and the suffering and for the acquaintences shut away from the death, it’s as if it never happened.

This mechanism protects people from the reality of death but do we not need some perspective?

I can imagine the friends of one of those I’ve seen, sitting around talking about their shock that he died so suddenly and then going back to eating their all day breakfast in the pub, without a second thought to what the dangerous lifestyle of their friend did to him, and what it could be doing to them.

There’s only one person I’ve seen who wants to take this message to the masses, Gunther von Hagens, the German anatomist who had dissected live on television, who wants to show the masses how the body works and just why we need to keep is as pristine as possible.

Von Hagens has put up exhibitions of human bodies in major cities all over the world, to alleviate the gap between the living and the dead, sadly he revealed this week that he’s dying of Parkinson’s disease, I just hope his death won’t lead to the world becoming even more shut off from death to the extent it stops us from living as long and as well as we could.

Image: todmaffin


Doctors have called for a ban on smoking in all vehicles because of a rise in the incidence of asthma in children but are confusing new laws really the way to help?

Passive smoking causes childhood asthma but does that mean it should be banned in all vehicles?

On the subject of the report, it found that smoking around children leads to:

  • 300,000 appointments with GPs
  • 9,500 hospital admissions
  • A cost of £23.3m each year

The figures are shocking but is banning smoking in cars really going to make much difference, is it not just going to lead to laws which are difficult to police?

Health promotion is a difficult task. There are two ways of preventing conditions developing. The first involves educating a person with facts, so explaining to parents the effect smoking has on their children.

This was done fantastically with this video:

The second way is to force people into making choices with laws, but without accomplishing the first method the laws will be difficult to enforce. People need to know that there is evidence supporting why a law should exist or they simply won’t abide by it.

The problem is that the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) who made the report don’t just call for a ban on smoking around children but for all drivers regardless of if a child would never sit in their car.

There is obviously no scientific proof that banning smoking in a vehicle that doesn’t carry kids is going to prevent childhood asthma so Prof Britton from the RCP justified a full ban by saying that if a driver doesn’t ferry kids around they should still get out of the car before lighting up for road safety issues.

Now I’m not saying that smoking while driving is 100% safe but surely if a law is going to be made it should be in line with the research available?

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

The government intends to force tobacco companies to sell their product in plain packaging

The latest government proposal to prevent people smoking is to sell cigarettes in plain packaging. Now I’m happy for the government to do whatever they feel is necessary, but how is plain packaging going to help?

Maybe I am overestimating society but I really don’t believe people pull out their cigarette packet to the gasps of those around them and the admiration which comes with smoking such a “cool” brand of cigarettes.

Maybe I am mistaken: perhaps packaging is for cigarettes what the ipod is for mp3 players, but I doubt it.

Smoking is an atrocious habit. Whenever I sit a medical exam and I’m asked for an aetiological factor for a disease I can guarantee I’ll get a mark if I put smoking… gastric ulcers, hypertension, colon cancer… smoking causes literally everything.

The smoking ban is probably one of the best initiatives the current government has implemented. But they are clearly scraping the barrel for ideas with this one.

Not that the tobacco companies are completely logical, instead of drawing the evidence together that changing the packaging is going to have little effect on the prevalence of smokers. Gareth Davis, chief executive of Imperial Tobacco claimed a lack of packaging would allow the illicit counterfeiting cigarette trade to grow.

I’m sorry but my initial reaction is so what? Counterfeiting is usually dangerous as products can be cut with dangerous chemicals. Anybody who places a legitimate brand of cigarette in their mouth is already exposing themselves to a significant risk to their health.

Image: Maggie Smith /

By Yvette Martyn

Prof Nutt

Professor Nutt caused controversy by comparing the harm caused by cannabis, horse riding, smoking and ecstasy

What happened?

Politicians had to make decisions regarding the law on drugs. To ensure the laws were backed up by science, scientific advisory councils existed. Enter Prof Nutt, chairman of The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

So politicians were working with scientists, sounds great! But a problem arose: the scientific facts didn’t match the antidrug policies the country had in place. Most notably: the reclassification of cannabis from Class C to Class B.

Professor Nutt said

  • Cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco.
  • Ecstasy is less dangerous than horse-riding.

And he didn’t pluck this information from thin air; the Science Select Committee produced a fabulous graph. (Courtesy of the BBC you can see the graph here). It ranked the harm particular drugs do against one another. Within it the 4 offending drugs came in rank of most dangerous:


(Please note horse riding was not included as it is not a drug but Prof Nutt has stated statistics warranting his comment on the dangers of the sport in comparison with taking ecstasy.)

Blimey, we had a huge problem here, ecstasy and cannabis were illegal but science told us they are less dangerous than legal activities such as horse-riding, alcohol and tobacco. The government felt they had no option but to sack Prof Nutt.

So what is the argument about?

Science v Politics – the drug argument

The Politician’s argument:

Politicians want drugs classified so it sends out signals to users and drug dealers.

The scientist’s argument:

Scientists want drugs classified in a league of the harm each drug causes. They believe the classification doesn’t deter people from taking drugs so it should exist to allow people to make informed decisions.

So what has Prof Nutt been accused of?

  • Crossing a line into politics, campaigners have stated that he’s on a one man crusade to legalise drugs.
  • Jacqui Smith accused Professor Nutt of trivialising drug danger and being insensitive to the families of victims of ecstasy.
  • Alan Johnson accused him of, campaigning against government decisions when he was supposed to be an advisor.

And what has the government been accused of?

  • Making scientists mislead people on the harm of drugs solely to back up policies.
  • Ignoring scientific messages for public perception and the need to send out a message.
  • Scaring people by exaggerating information.
  • Preventing Prof Nutt from the free speech he had a right too.

So what’s going on either side of the fence?

The scientists say:

What is the point of asking people with huge domains of knowledge to advise you on making policies, if you really mean stand behind me and give me statistics to back up the policies I have already decided I’ll make.

But the politicians say:

You are supposed to be advising politicians so that they can make informed choices on policies, if there is a policy you don’t like you shouldn’t continue criticise it in public forums.

What’s going to happen now?
The scientific community isn’t happy and the government needs them. Scientific advisors advise politicians so they can make decisions on all areas such as energy generation and healthcare.

The members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of drugs are all considering their position right now. Two of them have just resigned over the sacking but many more could follow. If this is seen on other scientific advisory councils then the government could be left with huge problems.

Image compiled from pictures available at :

Image: Maggie Smith /

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

Image: Karen Shaw /

Image: Darren Robertson /

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