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The biology of death; online

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ROGER L RICHARD

DEARBORN, MICH. "




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T.V0 [Ln:.,„.. :• f^oritolo^



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'^



Ger<rrtfelQ>c\^i. ^^\4|l8



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Gerontology



COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY



PRINTED BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

AT THE WASHINGTON SQUARE PRESS

fHILADELPHIA, U. Sf A,



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TO

MY WISEST COUNSELLOR
M. D. P.



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EDITOR'S ANNOUNCEMENT

The rapidly increasing specialization makes it im-
possible for one author to cover satisfactorily the whole
field of modem Biology. This situation, which exists in
all the sciences, has induced English authors to issue
series of monographs in Biochemistry, Physiology, and
Physics. A number of American biologists have decided
to provide the same opportunity for the study of
Experimental Biology.

Biology, which not long ago was purely descriptive
and speculative, has begun to adopt the methods of the
exact sciences, recognizing that for permanent progress
not only experiments are required but that the experi-
ments should be of a quantitative character. It will be
the purpose of this series of monographs to emphasize
and further as much as possible this development of
Biology.

Experimental Biology and General Physiology are one
and the same science, by method as well as by contents,
since both aim at explaining life from the physico-chemical
constitution of living matter. The series of monographs
on Experimental Biology will therefore include the field
of traditional General Physiology.

Jacques Loeb,

t. h. mobgak,

w. j. v. ostebhoxjt.



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10 AUTHOR'S PREFACE

I am indebted to a number of authors and publishers
for permission to use illustrations and wish here to ex-
press my great appreciation of this courtesy. The indi-
vidual sources for these borrowed figures are in every
case indicated in the legends. To Dr. J. McKeen Cattell
I am especially grateful for allowing me the use of the
blocks from the magazine publication of this material in
the Scientific Monthly; to Dr. Alexis Carrel for permis-
sion to use unpublished photographs of his tissue cultures ;
and, finally, to Professor T. H. Morgan for critically
reading the manuscript and making many helpful
suggestions.

B. P.

Baltimobb,
April 19, 1922.



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14 ILLUSTRATIONS

FIC. PAC«

23. Ck)mparmg the expectation of life of the population of the Roman

provinces Hispania and Lusitania with that of present day
Americans 91

24. Comparing the expectation of life of the population of the Roman

provinces in Africa with that of present day Americans 92

25. Showing Pearson's results in fitting the dx line of the life table with

5 skew frequency curves 96

26. Showing the relative importance of the different organ systems in

human mortality 108

27. Diagram showing the specific death rate at each age for deaths from

all causes taken together 116

28. The specific death rate at each age from breakdown of the circulatory

system, blood and blood forming organs 118

29. The specific death rate at each age from breakdown of the respira-

tory system 120

30. Specific death rates at each age from breakdown of the primary and

secondary sex organs 125

31. Specific death rates at each age from breakdown of .the kidneys and

related excretory organs 127

32. Specific death rates at each age from breakdown of the skeletal and

muscular systems 128

33. Specific rates of death at each age from breakdown of the alimentary

tract and associated organs of metabolism 129

34. Specific death rates at each age from breakdown of the nervous sys-

tem and sense organs 130

35. Specific death rates at each age chargeable against the skin 132

36. Specific death rates at each age from breakdown of the endocrinal

system 133

37. Specific death rates from all other causes of death not covered in the

preceding categories 134

38. Percentages of biologically classifiable human mortality resulting from

breakdown of organs developing from the different germ layers. . . 140

39. Specific death rates in males according to the germ layer from which

the organs developed 144

40. Specific death rates for females 146

41. Survival curves of members of the Hyde family (Plotted from BelUs

data) 153



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ILLUSTRATIONS 15

PIO. PACK

42. Influence of father's age at death upon longevity of offspring (After

BeU) 166

43. Influence of mother's age at death upon longevity of offspring (After

Bell) 157

44. Influence of age at death of parents upon the percentage of offspring

dying under 6 years (After Ploetz) 178

45. Snow's results on selective death rate in man 182

46. Male and female fruit fly (Droaophila melanogaater) (From Morgan) . 187

47. Life lines for DroaaphUa melanogaater 188

48. life lines for different inbred lines of descent in Drosophila 192

49. Life lines showing the result of Mendelian experiments on the dura-

tion of life in Drosophila 195

50. Distribution of poverty in Paris U911-13). (After Hersch) 202

51. Death rates in Paris (1911-13) from all causes. (After Hersch) 203

52. Trend of death rates for four causes of death against which pubUc

health activities have been particularly directed 230

53. Trend of death rates from four causes of death upon which no direct

attempt at control has been made 232

54. Trend of combined death rate from the four causes shown in figure

52 as compared with the four causes shown in figure 53 233

55. Course of the weighted average death rate for the countries in the A

and B groups, from tsrphoid fever 236

56. Like figure 55, but for diphtheria and croup 237

57. Record of malaria control by antimosquito measures, Crossett, Ark.,

1916-1918. (From Rose) 241

58. Disappearance of yellow fever from Guayaquil, Ecuador, as a result of

control measures. (By permission of International Health Board) 242

59. Showing the change in percentage which deaths were of births in

each of the years 1912 to 1919 246

60. Theoretical curve of population growth 249

61. Curve of growth of the population of the United States 250

62. Curve of growth of the population of France 251

63. Curve of growth of the population of Serbia 253

64. Growth of a Drosophila population kept under controlled experi-

mental conditions 254



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THE BIOLOGY OF
DEATH

CHAPTER I
THE PROBLEM

Pbobably no subject so deeply interests human beings
as that of the duration of human life. Presumably just
because the business of living was such a wonderfully
interesting and important one from the viewpoint of the
individual, man has endeavored, in every way he could
ihink of, to prolong it as much as possible. He has had
recourse to both natural and supernatural schemes for
attaining this objective. On the mundane plane he has
developed the sciences and arts of biology, medicine and
hygiene, with the fundamental purpose of learning the
underlying principles of vital processes, so that it might
ultimately be possible to stretch the length of each indivi-
dual's life on earth to the greatest attainable degree.
Becognizing pragmatically, however, that at best the limi-
tations in this direction were distinctly narrow, when
conceived in any historical sense, he has with singularly
wide-spread unanimity, deemed it wise to seek another
means of satisfying his desires. Man's body plainly and
palpably returns to dust, after the briefest of intervals,
measured in terms of cosmic evolution. But, patent as
this fact is it has not precluded the postulation of an infin-
ite continuation of that impalpable portion of man's be-
ing which is called the soul. With the field thus open we

2 17



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18 THE BIOLOGY OF DEATH

see some sort of notion of immortality incorporated in
an integral part of almost all folk philosophies of which
any record exists.

Now, perhaps unfortunately, perhaps fortunately, it
has up to the present time proved impossible absolutely
to demonstrate, for reasons which will presently appear,
by any scientifically valid method of experimentation or
reasoning, that any real portion of that totality of being
which is an individual living man persists after he dies.
Equally, for the same reasons, science cannot absolutely
demonstrate that such persistence does not occur. The
latter fact has had two important consequences. In the first
place, it has permitted many millions of people to derive
a real comfort of soul in sorrow, and a fairly abiding tran-
quility of mind in general from the belief that immortality
is a reality. Even the most cynical of scoffers can find lit-
tle fault with such a result, the world and human nature
being constituted as they are. The other consequence of
science's present inability to lay bare, in final and irre-
fragable terms, the truth about the course, if any, of
events subsequent to death is more serious. It opens the
way for recurring mental epidemics of that intimate mix-
ture of hyper-credulity, hyper-knavery, and mysticism,
which used to be called spiritualism, but now usually pre^
f ers more seductive titles. We are at the moment in the
midst of perhaps the most violent and destructive epi-
demic of this sort which has ever occurred. Its evil lies in
the fact that in exact proportion to its virulence it des-
troys the confidence of the cqllective mind of humanity
in the enduring efficacy of the only thing which the history
of mankind has demonstrated to contribute to the real
advancement of his intellectual, physical, spiritual and
moral well being, namely that orderly progression of
ascertained knowledge which we now call science.



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THE PROBLEM 19

The reason why science finds itself helpless to pre-
vent spiritualism's insidious sapping of the intellectual
fiber of the race is because it is asked to prove a negative,
upon the basis of unreal data. How difficult such a task
is is obvious as it is proverbial. Until science has demon-
strated that there is not a continuation of individual
supernatural existence after natural death, the spiritual-
ist can, and will, come forward with supposed demonstra-
tions that there is such a continuation. But the most
characteristic feature of science is its actuality, its reality,
its naturality. Pearson has pointed out, in characteristi-
cally clear and vigorous language, the reason why, in the
minds of uninformed persons, science appears helpless in
this situation. He says :

Scientific ignorance may either arise from an insiffficient classification
of facts, or be due to the unreality of the facts with which science has been
called upon to deal. Let us take, for example, fields of thought which
were very prominent in medieval times, such as alchemy, astrology, witch-
craft. In the fifteenth century nobody doubted the "facts" of astrology
and witchcraft. Men were ignorant as to how the stars exerted their
influence for good or ill; they did not know the exact mechanical process
by which all the milk in a village was turned blue by a witch. But for
them it was nevertheless a fact that the stars did influence human lives,
and a fact that the witch had the power of turning the milk blue. Have
we solved the problems of astrology and witchcraft today?

Do we now know how the stars influence human lives, or how witches
turn milk blue? Not in the least. We have learnt to look upon the facts
themselves as unreal, as vain imaginings of the untrained human mind;
we have learnt that they could not be described scientifically because they
involved notions which were in themselves contradictory and absurd. With
alchemy the case was somewhat different. Here a false classification of
real facts was combined with inconsistent sequences — ^that is, sequences
not deduced by a rational method. So soon as science entered the field
of alchemy with a true classification and a true method, alchemy was con-
verted into chemistry and became an important branch of human knowl-
edge. Now it will, I think, be foimd that the fields of inquiry, where
science has not yet penetrated and where the scientist still confesses



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20 THE BIOLOGY OF DEATH

ignorance, are very like alchemy, astrology, and witchcraft of the Middle
Ages. Either they involye facts which are in themeelTes tinreal— con-
ceptions which are self-contradictory and absurd, and therefore incapable
of analysis by the scientific or any other method— or, on the other hand,
our ignorance arises from an inadequate classification and a neglect of
scientific method.

This is the actual state of the case with those mental and spiritual
phenomena which are said to lie outside the proper scope of science, or
which appear to be disregarded by scientific men. No better example
can be taken than the range of phenomena which are entitled Spiritualism.
Here science is asked to analyse a series of facts which are to a great extent
unreal, which arise from the rain imaginings of untrained minds and
from atavistic tendencies to superstition. So far as the facts are of this
character, no account can be given of them, because, like the witch's
supernatural capacity, their imreality will be found at bottom to make
them self-contradictory. Combined, however, with the imreal series of
facts are probably others, connected with hypnotic and other conditions,
which are real and only incomprehensible because there is as yet scarcely
any intelligent classification or true application of scientific method. The
former class of facts will, like astrology, never be reduced to law, but will
one day be recognized as absurd; the other, like alchemy, may grow step
by step into an important branch of science. Whenever, therefore, we
are tempted to desert the scientific method of seeking truth, whenever the
silence of science suggests that some other gateway must be sought to
knowledge, let us inquire first whether the elements of the problem, of
whose solution we are ignorant, may not after all, like the facts of witch-
craft, arise from a superstition, and be self-contradictory and incompre-
hensible because they are unreal.

Let US recapitulate briefly our discussion to this point.
Mankind has endeavored to prolong the individual life by
natural and by supernatural means. This latter plan
falls outside the present purview of the scientific method.
The former is, in last analysis, responsible for a consid-
erable part, at least, of the development of the science
of biology, pure and applied, and the arts which found
their operations upon it. Biology can and has contributed
much to our knowledge of natural death and the causes
which determine the duration of life. It is the purpose
of this book to review some of the more important aspects



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22 THE BIOLOGY OF DEATH

understanding that the figures are estimates, frequently
based upon somewhat general and inexact evidence, and
record extreme, though it is believed authentic instances.
While the figures, on the accounts which have been men-
tioned, are subject to large probable errors, the table does
give a sufficiently reliable general picture of the truth
to indicate the enormous differences which exist among
different forms of animal life in respect of longevity.

TABLE 1
Longevity cf AnimaU





Animal


Approximate limits of maximum duration
of life in different spedee


Lower invertebrates


Under 100 hours to ?


Insects




Under 100 hours to 17 years


Fish




? to 267 years


Amphibia




?to 36 years


Reptiles




? to 175 years


Birds




9 years to 118 years


Mammals




lii years to over 100 years



We see from this table that life may endure in differ-
ent forms from only the briefest period, measured in
hours as in the case of Ephemeridde, to somewhere in
the hundreds of years. The extremely long durations
are of course to be looked upon with caution and reserva-
tion, but if we accept only extreme cases of known dura-
tion of life in man, the range of variation in this
characteristic of living things is sufficiently wide.

It is probable that man, in exceptional instances, is
nearly the longest lived of all mammals. The common
idea that whales and elephants attain great longevity
appears to be not well founded. The absolutely authentic
instances of human survival beyond a century are, con-
trary to the prevalent view and customary statistics,
extremely rare. The most painstaking and accurate



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THE PROBLEM 23

investigation of the frequency of occurrence of centen-
arians which has ever been made is that of T. E. Young.
Because of the considerable intrinsic interest of the
matter, and the popular misconceptions which generally
prevail about it, it will be worth while to take a little
time to examine Young's methods and results. He points
out in the beginning that the evidence of great age which
is usually accepted by census officials, by registrars of
death, by newspaper reporters, and by the general public,
is, generally speaking, of no validity or trustworthiness
whatever. Statements of the person concerned, or of that
person's relatives or friends, as to extreme longevity,
can almost invariably be shown by even a little investiga-
tion to be extremely unreliable. To be acceptable as
scientific evidence any statement of great age must be
supported by unimpeachable documentary proof of at
least the following points:

a. The date of tvrth, or of baptism.

b. The date of death,

c. The identity of the person dying at a supposed verj advanced age

with the person for whom the birth or baptismal record, upon
which the claim of great age is based, was made out.

d. In the case particularly of married women the date of marriage,

the person to whom married, and any other data which wiU
help to establish proof of identity.

In presumptive cases of great longevity, which on
other grounds are worthy of serious consideration, it is
usually in respect of item c — the proof of identity — ^that
the evidence is weakest. Every student of genealogical
data knows how easy it is for the following sort of thing
to happen. John Smith was bom in the latter half of
the eighteenth century. His baptism was duly and pro-
perly registered. He unfortunately died at the age of



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24 BIOLOGY OF DEATH

say 15. By an oversight his death was not registered.
In the same year that he died another male child was
bom to the same parents, and given the name of John
Smith, in commemoration perhaps of his deceased brother.
This second John Smith was never baptized. He at-
tained the age of 85 years, and then because of the appear-
ance of extreme senility which he presented^ his stated age
increased by leaps and bounds. A study of the baptismal
records of the town disclosed the apparent fact that he
was just 100 years old. The case goes out to the public
as an unusually well authenticated case of centenarianism,
when of course it is nothing of the sort.

Young applies vigorously the criteria above enumer-
ated first, to the historically recorded cases of great long-
evity such as Thomas Parr, et id genus omne, and rejects
them all; and second to the total mortality experience
of all the Life Assurance and Annuity Societies of Great
Britain and the annuity experience of the National Debt
Office. The number of persons included in the experience
was close upon a million. He found in this material, and
from other outside evidence, exactly 30 persons who lived
100 or more years. In Table 2 the detailed results of
his inquiry are shown in condensed form.

It will be noted from this table that the most extreme
case of longevity which Young was able to authenticate
was about a month and a half short of 111 years. Of
the 30 centenarians recorded 21 were women and 9 were
men. The superiority of women in expectation of life is
strikingly apparent at the very high age of 100 years. We
shall later see that this is merely a particularly noteworthy
instance of a phenomenon which is common to a great
portion of the life span.



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THE PROBLEM



25



The contrast between tliese proved findings of Yonng,
exceedingly modest both in respect of numbers, and ex-
tremity of longevity, and the loose data on centenarianism

TABLE 2
AtUhentic Instances of Centenarianism (from Young)









Age at death
(or living)






Social status






Sex


(sinsleor










married)


Years


Months


Days


9


M


110




321


9


M


108




144


9


M


105


8


• • •


9


S


104


9


16


9


M


103


9


28


9


?


103


.


269


9


M


103


3


7


d*


?


103


1


8


d*


?


102


9


2


9


?


102


.


218


9


S


102


2


10


Q


S


102


1


8


9


s


102




21


9*


s


102




19


d"


?


102




2


9t


s


101


io


4


9


s


101


8


25


d"


?


101




263


d*


?


101


'4


• • •


9


s


101


1


16


9


s


101


1


4


d*


?


101




32


9


s


101




1


&


?


100


9


4


9


s


100


7


6


9


s


100


6


9


9


M


100


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryRaymond PearlThe biology of death; → online text (page 1 of 18)