March 5, 2024

Compassionate end-of-life nursing care in Neolithic Vietnam

Hi there, 

A friend and subscriber told me recently that he found BioEdge depressing. Perhaps the effort to scan newspapers and blogs has inured me to the sombre aspects of bioethical news.

But as a New Year’s resolution, I’ll be keeping a weather out for uplifting stories. Today we have a winner, I think, about bioarcheology. This is a new profession which involves analysing the remains of ancient humans as clues to the societies in which they once lived.

The New York Times recently described a discovery in northern Vietman by an Australian researcher. (The original journal article appeared nearly two years ago, actually, a sure sign that the International Journal of Paleopathology is flying way below the Gray Lady’s radar.) It was the skeleton of a man in his early 30s, about 4,500 years old. He had a condition which implied paralysis of the lower limbs and impeded motion of the upper limbs.

In other words, he was a useless eater leading an unproductive, meaningless life in a hunter-gatherer society. Well, that’s the way many of our contemporaries would think of him. But his didn’t. The evidence suggests that they cared for him tenderly, with all the dedicated nursing that paralysis requires. Life five millennia ago may have been nasty and short, as Hobbes said, but not necessarily brutish. 

Furthermore, the authors infer that the “secure, emotionally-supportive, inclusive environment” would have helped him to resist the temptation to lapse into depression because of his handicap. To me this seems like a lesson that our own atomised society needs to relearn.

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of our readers. 

Michael Cook
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!