On November 20, 2012 in Puerto Rico, famed boxer Hector Camacho was shot in the head in a drive by shooting while traveling with a friend. The bullet penetrated his jaw, fractured two vertebrae and severed his carotid artery restricting blood flow to his brain; he also suffered a cardiac arrest during the first few hours of his hospitalization. The next day he was declared brain dead by the physicians present effectively ending all hope that he could make a full recovery. The doctors then recommended that he be taken off of life support, a recommendation that his mother endorsed. Camacho died on November 24, 2012 and was laid to rest in New York City on December 1.
However, not everyone in Hector’s family was supportive of the decision to remove him from life support. Hector’s eldest son, Hector Jr., opposed his grandmother’s decision to remove his father from life support stating that “He is going to fight until the end. My father is a boxer.” Other relatives as well as friends of Camacho were also unsure of whether or not to remove Camacho from life support. One friend and fellow professional boxer Victor Callejas remarked that “If there is still hope and faith, why not wait a little more?”
The death of Camacho and the dispute over whether or not to end life support for him shows that despite what scientific evidence tell us, despite what professional doctors know and despite what we have learned throughout the semester in this Death and Burial Class, there is always going to be a debate over life support and whether or not brain death is truly the end. Even though we know about brain death and the fact that a person cannot recover if the brain is dead, we should not be so quick to look down on people who doubt the evidence of brain death with contempt. It is understandable why these people might be hesitant to pull the plug on a loved one. For almost everyone, losing a loved one is one of the most traumatizing experiences they can go through; furthermore, losing a loved one who still looks able to potentially function and recover is even more traumatizing. Even though we should raise awareness of brain death, due to the fact that people are reacting normally to the state of their loved ones, we shouldn’t blame people for being hesitant to pull the plug on a brain dead relative.
Because of this, every person in this class should make it their goal to help raise awareness of brain death is some way shape of form. By doing this, we can at least help make sure that people are more understanding of brain death and what it means for their loved ones
On September 10, 2012 Amanda Todd, a fifteen year-old from Vancouver, Canada was found dead from an apparent suicide. Amanda had suffered for years from persistent bullying both at her school and online and had already attempted suicide once by swallowing bleach. Amanda spoke out against cyberbullying in a youtube video and an online presentation; they unfortunately did not end the suffering that was being inflicted on her. However, after her death, Amanda received a wave of support and condolences from both her peers and from people who never knew she existed. Her death has been featured on several news sites with reporters calling her death a tragedy. A facebook page was also created for her and now has over 11,000 likes.
Amanda’s death shares many similarities with the deaths of other teenagers from suicide including Jamie Rodemeyer, who killed himself after years of being the target of anti-gay bullying, and Phoebe Prince, an Irish immigrant who hanged herself after being tormented relentlessly at school and online by her peers. Instead of being vilified by people for having given up on life or brushed aside for more important news stories, both of these teens also received an outpouring of support from their peers and from others around the country. Rodemeyer also received support from several famous people, most notably Lady Gaga who used his death as a rallying cry to call for tougher anti-bullying laws.
All of these incidents of teen suicide due to bullying display an unusual trend. Normally in the US when someone dies by suicide they are still mourned by their peers. However, at the same time, they are often the subject of anger and questioning as to why they have given up on life when they could have potentially worked through their problems. American culture favors those with a “never quit” attitude and rewards those people with respect even if they never truly fulfill their goals. To kill oneself before reaching these goals or living a full life implies that the person is a quitter and did not take life seriously or stop to ask how they could work through their problems.
This definition does a complete 180˚ when it comes to teen suicide due to bullying. Instead of being seen as having given up in the face of adversity, their deaths are seen as a tragedy; the loss of a promising youth who could have been very successful in life. Given that these people are still teenagers and are in a critical development stage of their lives, it is likely that people are more understanding of their situations because they are not yet able to fully grasp the consequences of suicide as well as adults. Additionally, the stresses of everyday life as a teen can also make a bullying situation seem more hopeless in their eyes. Because of this understanding, the teens receive support in levels that they would not have received from their peers if they were still alive.
The tragedy of school bullying has turned teen suicide into a redeeming factor. Teens who are bullied and do not have the support of their peers while they are alive will receive an outpouring of support after killing themselves whether it be from peers who feel guilt for playing a part in the death or from people who genuinely see their death as a tragic one. By killing themselves, the teens redeem themselves in the eyes of their peers even though they likely do not see it this way and are only looking for a way to put an end to their problems.
To read more about Amanda Todd and Jamie Rodemeyer:
If you suspect that someone you know is having thoughts about suicide, click here. You could potentially save their lives!
This blog is a platform of communication for a college course at Emory entitled "The Anthropology of Death and Burial". The purpose is to use this blog to invite the world into our classroom by drawing on current events or phenomena that surround us and that are relevant to our exploration into the topic of death and how people deal with it.
The course is explicitly cross-disciplinary and besides anthropology we also explore the topic of death through the lens of biology, history, religious studies, medicine, law, philosophy, sociology, literature and art. Feel welcome to explore and participate!
Who we are
The contributors to this blog are all undergraduate students at Emory University in Atlanta GA (USA).
The course is taught by Dr. Liv Nilsson Stutz who is an archaeologists with a special interest in mortuary archaeology and ritual studies. She is also a regular contributor.