September 19, 2013

Simple question prompts black hole of envy, Big Bang

A simple question asking if I knew Stephen Hawking kicked my morning off with a heavy exam of my thoughts on assisted suicide.

Hawking has changed his position, now allowing someone with a terminal illness should be able to end his/her life. Interesting, since the 71-year-old physicist has lived with motor neurone disease* far past the two-years to go deadline doctors issued in 1963.

He's back in the news because his film Hawking will premiere in a few hours at the 33rd Cambridge Film Festival. We'll come back to that.

Hawking told the BBC about his change of attitude while answering a question about how he once was kept alive by machines and his wife given the choice to turn them off.

Although assisted suicide is illegal in Britain, Hawking argued that since we do not let animals suffer we should not let humans suffer. Still the decision to end another's life must not come easy, Hawking said.
"There must be safeguards that the person concerned genuinely wants to end their life and are not being pressurized into it or have it done without their knowledge and consent as would have been the case with me."
 The BBC interview (see below)  is worth a listen -- he knows how to find a silver lining! For instance, listen to what he says about disabilities, committees and meetings. In 2006, Hawking was quoted with remarks against assisted dying.
"I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope."
I don't have a good answer for assisted suicide or as some call it -- assisted dying. I'm not willing to outlaw it for others. But I'd want to make sure that there truly was no hope of living before allowing someone to choose death."

I've struggled with how much of modern medicine do we use to keep someone with late stage Alzheimer's Disease alive -- worth a flu shot? Antibiotics? Bypass heart surgery?

Counter that with what we would have missed if someone had decided curing Hawking's pneumonia was not a good investment.

Back in Cambridge

Meanwhile, back in Cambridge for tonight's movie ... Hawking, director Stephen Finnigan, and other guests will then answer questions from the audience and some gathered from the film's Facebook and Twitter accounts. Even better, that Q&A is being beamed to about 70 cinemas in the United Kingdom. (Fingers crossed that someone will secretly film and then share since it is not being broadcast to the United States.)

The film follows Hawking's "journey from boyfriend underachiever to PhD genius," before and after the disease that has had him on life support for more then 20 years.
Hawking and Sheldon. Hawking
 introduced the group
 via video at the 2013 Comic-Con

I think I first learned of Hawking in a late night discussion over at Lyman Briggs College over at Michigan State University. Black  holes, anyone? Certainly not a topic most freshmen journalism students would discuss.

But that was the beauty of mixing students studying journalism, English and other liberal arts subjects with would-be scientists, letting each claim rooms in the dormitory that also housed the college for brainy soon-to-be physicists, doctors and such. Both sets were introduced to unexpected subjects.

Big Bang Theory recorded
 a video greeting for premiere of Hawking
Of course, those talks with the would-be physicists gave me an insider's knowledge when watching Big Bang Theory. Sometimes I am surprised that I understand some of Sheldon's or Leonard's white board scribbling.

Can't wait to see how the show will deal with Leonard on his expedition with Hawking. Meanwhile, do what I did and explore the Hawking entry on the Big Bang Theory wiki.

* A rose is a rose is a rose ....

I was so puzzled when I first heard of motor neurone disease. Then, I learned that is just what someone in the United States might call Lou Gehrig's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Just one more example of how geography affects our language, even when we both speak English.

A sneak preview/trailer

Hawking opens Sept. 20 in the United States. Here's the trailer. Enjoy.

The BBC interview


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