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Death knocking

Science | Special medical teams in the Netherlands are making fatal house calls

Issue: "Who will vote?," April 21, 2012

If the patients can't find death, just take death to the patients: That's the thinking behind the End of Life Clinic that opened in the Netherlands in March. The clinic will send out mobile "Life End" teams at the request of patients who wish to die under the country's decade-old euthanasia law. The teams will cater to terminally ill patients whose primary care doctors have refused to provide euthanasia for religious, moral, or other reasons.

A patient requesting a visit from a Life End unit-consisting of a doctor, nurse, and equipment-can choose between a two-dose lethal injection or a drinkable drug mixture. At least 70 patients contacted the clinic's office within its first month of operation, and its services are free for now, although it hopes insurance companies will eventually pick up the tab.

There are 2,500 to 3,000 cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands annually, representing 2 percent of all deaths in the country, and 1,500 suicides. Petra de Jong, the director of Right to Die-NL, the organization running the clinic, said her workers don't try to change the minds of people who call for advice on committing suicide: "It would be paternalistic." Instead they suggest a list of lethal drugs that people can obtain over the counter in neighboring Belgium.

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Evolution underfoot

© National News/zumapress.com/Newscom

After combing dirt in the Burtele region of Ethiopia, a team of paleoanthropologists reported in Nature their discovery of a fossilized foot that could complicate an evolution storyline. The fossil hunters say the eight foot bones they unearthed in 2009 only 30 miles from where the famed "Lucy" skeleton was found is the first proof that another prehuman species lived alongside Lucy between 3 million and 4 million years ago.

Evolutionists consider Lucy-representing the species Australopithecus afarensis-to be mankind's earliest ancestor because the creature presumably walked upright, having a partially arched foot with a big toe that pointed forward. By contrast, the Burtele foot has no arch and sports an opposable big toe that would have enabled it to grasp branches. Yet its discoverers think other details, like bone features suggesting the toes could hyperextend, indicate the Burtele creature could awkwardly walk upright on land as well as swing from the trees.

The researchers have not ventured to give the animal a scientific name, since they still hope to dig up a skull or tooth that will prove it a new species. Until then, not every believer in the monkey-to-man narrative is convinced the Burtele bones represent a bonus chapter to the story: "I doubt this creature did anything that most of us would recognize as walking," commented Bernard Wood, an anthropologist at George Washington University. "Frankly, I don't see why they don't view it as an ape." -Daniel James Devine

Fast retraction

Last September's announcement that neutrinos may have traveled faster than light was probably too extraordinary to be true. The multinational research team that originally clocked the neutrinos speeding into the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Assergi , Italy ("Fast track," Oct. 22) found a loose fiber optic cable that may have botched their data. Now an independent team has repeated the measurements-and found no neutrinos breaking the laws of physics. -Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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