Medicine

147 articles
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In the bayou south of New Orleans, a program called the Nurse-Family Partnership tries to reverse the life chances for babies born into extreme poverty. Sometimes, it actually succeeds.

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On the centuries-long search for the perfect hangover remedy.

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Inside the political battle over reproductive rights in Texas.

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Gretchen Molannen was perpetually aroused. She couldn’t work or sleep.

On December 1, the day after this story was published, she killed herself.

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In 1943, a young research scientist found a cure for TB. It should have been the proudest moment of Albert Schatz’s life, but ever since he has watched, helpless, as his mentor got all the credit.

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How a woman who couldn’t stop sleeping woke up.

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On an affliction for the digital age, “Munchausen by internet.”

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Ashlyn Blocker, 13, has a “congenital insensitivity to pain.”

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We know we need it, but we don’t know why.

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On being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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A family’s struggle with mental illness and the criminal justice system.

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The rise of drug-resistant gonorrhea.

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Debates surrounding physician-assisted dying in the U.S.

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A medical device company experiments on humans.

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Diagnosed with a rare blood disease, the author reflects on illness and addiction.

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Sex and status disclosure in the age of Grindr and undetectable HIV-levels.

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On getting a brain implant to slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease.

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On the uneasy relationship between magic and medicine.

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On the legal history of LSD in America and a researcher who never gave up on the drug’s promise.

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“Transforming into an Administrative Jekyll for a certain amount of time every day limits the amount of time my Creative Hyde can come up with content to market and sell. Luckily, amphetamines have that problem tackled as well: when you’re using them, you don’t have to sleep… at all.”

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A radical new treatment for auditory hallucinations.

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Just days after suffering a concussion, a 17-year-old fullback hangs himself. Inside his family’s journey to learn if a brain injury is to blame.

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When an autistic child goes missing.

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On caring for a bipolar parent amidst a broken mental health care system.

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The author on his mother’s deteriorating health and the “price of longevity.”

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How a surgical innovation allowed Dallas Weins to find a new face.

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Ina May Gaskin and the battle for at-home births.

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The story of Nicole Davis, a 25-year-old woman diagnosed with breast cancer six months into her pregnancy.

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New research on children’s behavior.

The idea that a young child could have psychopathic tendencies remains controversial among psychologists. Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, has argued that psychopathy, like other personality disorders, is almost impossible to diagnose accurately in children, or even in teenagers — both because their brains are still developing and because normal behavior at these ages can be misinterpreted as psychopathic.

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The story of former Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill and the lasting impact of his concussions.

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A father and his daughter’s brain tumor.

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I've grown, over the last few months, the beginnings of concerned; he's started to suffer bouts of malaise. Nothing too regular, or too terrible: mild stomach aches, sore joints, general lethargy. In anyone else, it could be anything, etc. In Chad, I grow attuned to the slightest variation in temperature, to the distracted look behind his eyes when food isn't sitting with him.
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The impact, both on researchers and patients, of a radical treatment.

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The rise of anti-anxiety medication.

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How a mysterious twitching epidemic overtook one Western New York town.

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An investigation into the myth of actress Frances Farmer’s lobotomy.

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Last Fall, America’s favorite focus drug suddenly went into short supply.

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The stories of a record-setting chain of transplants.

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“In the very near future, the act of remembering will become a choice.”

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The story of a high school star who died minutes after hitting a game-winner to end an undefeated season, and the family and friends he left behind.

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On Mike Powell, a Chicago-area high school wrestling coach who hasn’t allowed a life-threatening illness to interrupt his life’s work.

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"Look, people's lives are people's lives, and some of them can't cope or be as organized as some of us might like. But it's only in the area of sex that we get involved in the ethics of promoting risk-taking, the idea that we should withhold information or devices because we don't want people to need them. Would you make the same argument about cholesterol drugs? Saying, If we give people a drug that will reduce cholesterol, they won't be as likely to exercise and eat properly like they really should?"
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Why “Father of Botox” Arnold Klein, whose famous clients once included Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, thinks everyone’s out to get him.

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A profile of the Final Exit Network's former medical director:
In those final seconds before his patients lose consciousness and die, the words they utter sound like Donald Duck, he says, imitating the high-pitched, nasally squeak familiar to any child who has sucked a gulp from a helium balloon. So, this is how a human being can leave this Earth? Sounding like Donald Duck?
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How an up-and-coming Boston surgeon became best known for leaving a patient on the operating table while he skipped out to cash a check.

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On a child diagnosed with autism:

The worst part was that I knew he sensed it, too. In the same way that I know when he wants vegetable puffs or puréed fruit by the subtle pitch of his cries, I could tell that he also perceived the change—and feared it. At night he was terrified to go to bed, needing to hold my fingers with one hand and touch my face with the other in order to get the few hours of sleep he managed. Every morning he was different. Another word was gone, another moment of eye contact was lost. He began to cry in a way that was untranslatable. The wails were not meant as messages to be decoded; they were terrified expressions of being beyond expression itself.

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A 21-year-old falls into a coma from which he’ll never emerge. His mother, desperate to grant his wish of becoming a father, has his sperm preserved. Two years later, after a fruitless search for other alternatives, she finds a willing doctor and tries one last option: carrying her son’s child herself.

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A young couple’s story.

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A doctor reveals widespread organ harvesting of prisoners in China.

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How a Texas woman pushed for autopsy reform.

Clinical autopsies, once commonplace in American hospitals, have become an increasing rarity and are conducted in just 5 percent of hospital deaths. Grief-stricken families like the Carswells desperately want the answers that an autopsy can provide. But they often do not know their rights in dealing with either coroners or medical examiners, who investigate unnatural deaths, or health-care providers, who delve into natural ones.

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On the recovery of snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered a massive brain injury five days before the 2010 Olympics.

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On the Final Exit Network, a controversial right-to-die organization, and the death of their client John Celmer.

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After losing his sight at age 3, Michael May went on to become the first blind CIA agent, set a world record for downhill skiing, and start a successful Silicon Valley company. Then he got the chance to see again.

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A son chronicles his father’s death:

My father's mortician was a careless barber. Stepping up to the open casket, I realized too much had been taken off the beard. The sides were trimmed tidy, the bottom cut flat across. It was a disconcerting sight, because in his last years, especially, my father had worn his beard wild, equal parts loony chemist and liquor store Santa. The mortician ought to have known this, I thought, because he knew the man in life. My father — himself the grandson of a funeral home director — would drop by Davey-Linklater in Kincardine, Ontario, now and then for a friendly chat. How's business? Steady as she goes? Death was his favourite joke.

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Chantix is a pill that decreases the pleasurable effects of cigarettes. It also causes hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and waking nightmares:

A week into my Chantix usage, I started to feel as if the city landscape had imperceptibly shifted around me. Mundane details began to strike me as having deep, hidden significance. The neon arch above McDonald’s: The lights blinked on and off in some sort of pattern, and I needed to crack the code.

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On the autopsy of a 5,000-year-old murder victim.

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On a pair of Israeli psychologists who between 1971 and 1984 “published a series of quirky papers exploring the ways human judgment may be distorted when we are making decisions in conditions of uncertainty.”

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Irving Kahn is about to celebrate his 106th birthday. He still goes to work every day. Scientists are studying him and several hundred other Ashkenazim to find out what keeps them going. And going. And going.
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A family of Georgia churchgoers contracted the plague of their time, HIV. Some survived, some didn’t—this is the story of their family over thirty years.

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Assessing 40 years of treatment.

My abiding faith in the possibility of self-transformation propelled me from one therapist to the next, ever on the lookout for something that seemed tormentingly out of reach, some scenario that would allow me to live more comfortably in my own skin. For all my doubts about specific tenets and individual psychoanalysts, I believed in the surpassing value of insight and the curative potential of treatment — and that may have been the problem to begin with.

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Retirement for chimps is, in its way, a perversely natural outcome, which is to say, one that only we, the most cranially endowed of the primates, could have possibly concocted. It's the final manifestation of the irrepressible and ultimately vain human impulse to bring inside the very walls that we erect against the wilderness its most inspiring representatives -- the chimps, our closest biological kin, the animal whose startling resemblance to us, both outward and inward, has long made it a ''can't miss'' for movies and Super Bowl commercials and a ''must have'' in our laboratories. Retirement homes are, in a sense, where we've been trying to get chimps all along: right next door.
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On the minds of teenagers.

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The controversy over a widely-used prostate cancer screening test.

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Recently discharged, an undocumented immigrant discusses his treatment.

In a city with a large immigrant population, it is not rare for hospitals to have one or more patients who, for reasons unrelated to their medical condition, do not seem to leave. At Downtown, where a bed costs the hospital more than $2,000 a day, there are currently three long-term patients who no longer need acute care but cannot be discharged because they have nowhere to go. The hospital pays nearly all costs for these patients’ treatment. One man left recently after a stay of more than five years.

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As part of his obsessive search for evidence of UFOs, Gary McKinnon worked his way into thousands of government computers. The U.S. charged him with terrorism. Doctors diagnosed him with Asperger’s. And his lawyers started arguing a new version of the insanity defense.

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The case for coaches in professions other than music and sports. Like medicine, for example:

Since I have taken on a coach, my complication rate has gone down. It’s too soon to know for sure whether that’s not random, but it seems real. I know that I’m learning again. I can’t say that every surgeon needs a coach to do his or her best work, but I’ve discovered that I do.

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In 1959, a social psychologist in Michigan brought together three institutionalized patients for an experiment:

[W]hat would happen, he wondered, if he made three men meet and live closely side by side over a period of time, each of whom believed himself to be the one and only Jesus Christ?

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The history of – and recent controversy over – the diagnosis.

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The anatomy of a 1930 epidemic that wasn’t:

Was parrot fever really something to worry about? Reading the newspaper, it was hard to say. “not contagious in man,” the Times announced. “Highly contagious,” the Washington Post said. Who knew? Nobody had ever heard of it before. It lurked in American homes. It came from afar. It was invisible. It might kill you. It made a very good story. In the late hours of January 8th, editors at the Los Angeles Times decided to put it on the front page: “two women and man in Annapolis believed to have 'parrot fever.'"

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How is Canada’s “post-AIDS” generation coping? Not that well.

[I]n some ways we are still hopelessly lost. A generation of men who could have been our mentors was decimated. The only thing we learned from observing them was to ruthlessly identify “AIDS face,” that skeletal appearance the early HIV drugs wrought on patients by wasting away their bodily tissues. But those faces grow more rare each day.
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On the culture of plastic surgery in Los Angeles, and how the reporter’s life changed when she got a pair of fake boobs.

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In the film bullets approach in slow motion a series of glistening roundels, resembling condoms just taken out of their paper wrappings. Most of the bullets go right through, leaving a clean hole. But the last roundel in the film collapses slowly, wrapping itself around the bullet like a blanket on a laundry line hit by a wayward football. It is a piece of artificially bred human skin, reinforced with eight layers of transgenic spider silk, the material spiders produce to spin their webs.
Translated from the original Dutch, exclusive to Longform.org.
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What is it about terminating half a twin pregnancy that seems more controversial than reducing triplets to twins or aborting a single fetus? After all, the math’s the same either way: one fewer fetus. Perhaps it’s because twin reduction (unlike abortion) involves selecting one fetus over another, when either one is equally wanted. Perhaps it’s our culture’s idealized notion of twins as lifelong soul mates, two halves of one whole. Or perhaps it’s because the desire for more choices conflicts with our discomfort about meddling with ever more aspects of reproduction.
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An investigation by ProPublica, PBS Frontline and NPR has found that medical examiners and coroners have repeatedly mishandled cases of infant and child deaths, helping to put innocent people behind bars.
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Dr. Drew has turned addiction television into a mini-empire, offering treatment and cameras to celebrities who have fallen far enough to take the bait.  His motivations, he insists, are pure:

Whether the doctor purposefully cultivates his celebrity stature for noble means or wittingly invites it because he himself likes being in the spotlight, he is operating on the assumption that his empathetic brand of TV will breed empathy instead of the more likely outcome, that it will just breed more TV.

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On therapists who help people stay in the closet.

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Eagleman, a neuroscientist, describes how groundbreaking advances in the science of brain have changed our understanding of volition in criminal acts, and may erode the underpinnings of our justice system.

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A dispatch from the early days of AIDS:

It is as relentless as leukemia, as contagious as hepatitis, and its cause has eluded researchers for more than two years.

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The Canadian scapegoat of the AIDS epidemic.

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A brutal story from the Times’ cub Metro reporter:

''We're dying,'' he said. ''Why is this happening? Is it because we loved each other too much or not enough?"

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It was the worst AIDS crisis in years—until it wasn’t.

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Pathologists and epidemiologists take on “the confounding killer known as AIDS.”

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“Is he Socrates or Mengele?” On the late Jack Kevorkian.

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An essay about the weeks after the author’s brother nearly died.

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Timothy Brown was diagnosed with HIV in the ’90s. In 2006, he found that a new, unrelated disease threatened his life: leukemia. After chemo failed, doctors resorted to a bone marrow transplant. That transplant erased any trace of HIV from his body, and may hold the secret of curing AIDS.

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A commencement address to the graduates of Harvard Medical School on how their chosen profession is changing and what they’ll need to learn now that they’re out of school.

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On the shared life of Tatiana and Krista Hogan:

[T]he girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it.

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The story of a high school quarterback’s descent into madness, and its tragic end.

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Doc moves quickly. He takes off his windbreaker, tosses his leather bag on the counter and unzips it. He pulls out a slate-blue polyester vest, V-necked, with six buttons. He raises his arms and jumps into it and then says, with an air of deep satisfaction, "Aah." Doc is proud of his bulletproof vest.
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The placebo response doesn't care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapists, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better.
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Nearly every American soldier injured in Iraq or Afghanistan is treated—for a few days at least—at a single hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

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On a neuroscientist’s personal mission to solve the mystery of how the brain processes time.

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Sasha Shulgin, a former DOW chemist who now lives a quiet life as a pensioner outside the Bay Area, is responsible for the discovery of the majority of psychedelic compounds currently known.

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Intended for cremation, 244 bodies are instead harvested for organs and tissue. The story of the families of the dead, the men who profited off the scheme, and the unwitting recipients of black market body parts.

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Barry Michels is Hollywood’s most successful therapist cum motivation coach with an approach that combines Jungian psychology, encouraging patients to embrace their dark side, and “three-by-five index cards inscribed with Delphic pronouncements like THE HIERARCHY WILL NEVER BE CLEAR.”

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The long, happy, surprising life of 77-year old Donald Gary Triplett, the first person ever diagnosed with autism.

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A group of scientists started tracking thousands of British children born during one cold March week in 1946. Those children are now 65 and the data generated through careful tracking of their life history has become extremely valuable.

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Daniel Kish is entirely sightless. So how can he ride a bike on busy streets? Go hiking for days alone? By using a technique borrowed from bats.

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Henry Heimlich saved untold choking victimes when he invented his maneuver in 1974. Since then, he’s searched in vain for another miracle treatment—pushing ethical boundaries along the way. Now at the end of his career, Heimlich has hired an investigator to find an anonymous critic working full-time to destroy his legacy.

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The American medical establishment has gone to extraordinary lengths—some of which read like conspiracy theory—to discredit the notion (and its most visible promoter, Dr. Atkins) that carbohydrates, not fat, are the cause of obesity. It looks like they were wrong.

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The search for the genetic distinction that allows certain animals, humans included, to be domesticated.

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How focusing on the neediest patients could radically reduce health care costs.

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With Washington State debating a bill that would force Christian pregnancy centers to be more forthright about their anti-abortion agenda, a pair of reporters hear firsthand what the centers are telling young women.

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The story of H1N1 and one of the lives it claimed.

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A profile of Jobs. The themes: immortality, relinquishing control, and how being adopted affected his choices for Apple. The lede: “One day, Steve Jobs is going to die.”

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The decline of the American autopsy and what it says about modern medicine.

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How a burst blood vessel transformed the mind of a deliberate, controlled chiropractor into that of an utterly unfiltered, massively prolific artist.

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On the expanding community of American parents who believe, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that there is a link between routine vaccinations and autism.

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How to kick heroin in 24 hours.

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A jogging buddy collapses during a marathon, his heart suddenly finished beating. The writer goes looking for answers.

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He called himself “TheNoseDoctor” and performed sinus surgeries, many of them unnecessary, at a maniacal clip. When the whole thing fell apart, he left behind his yacht and family, and disappeared into the Alps.

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How the bulk of the cocaine entering the U.S. ends up cut with a cattle dewormer.

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On what you come to appreciate after a short apprenticeship with paramedics.

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“You can treat a lot of people, and India has,’’ says an epidemiologist working on TB. “But if you have tests that cause misdiagnosis on a massive scale you are going to have a serious problem. And they do.”

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The brain of Henry Molaison gave science most of what it knows about memory. Dr. Jacopo Annese believes there’s even more to learn.

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When it comes to representing pharmaceutical companies, a doctor’s medical record is far less important than his or her ability to sell.

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How “tissue engineering” will change regenerative medicine.

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For most people who participate in clinical trials, being a guinea pig is just a way to make a quick buck. For others, it’s a career.

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A trip to the Russian baths helps author start to see the good in his terrible eyesight.

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How misdirected incentives in the bewildering medical supply industry keep innovative, life-saving equipment from reaching hospitals.

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The cozy relationship between “the internet newspaper” and bogus medicine.

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Thirty years ago, few people had ever heard of ADD. ‘Early onset depression’ might become a common diagnosis long before 2040.

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Tony Judt on his own amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and the experience of being “left free to contemplate at leisure and in minimal discomfort the catastrophic progress of one’s own deterioration.”

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The mother of a child born with a deformed brain responds, heartbreakingly, to an academic study claiming that people are happier without kids.

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An emerging school of therapy says that scripting your dreams while awake could eliminate the worst ones. Not everyone thinks that’s healthy.

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Should modern medicine shift its end-of-life priorities, focusing less on staving off death and more on improving a patient’s last days?

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In 1937, Harvard researchers began following the lives of 268 students. Year after year, the men were interviewed and given medical and psychological exams. The goal? Find a formula for happiness.

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Is there really such a thing as brain death?

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In the 1950s, L.S.D. became a Beverly Hills’ therapy fad, and it profoundly changed idols like Cary Grant.

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A first-person account. “If you’re the sort of person who has only ever had to deal with colds and cuts, food poisoning and the odd virus…what strikes you most is the glacial pace of recuperation.”

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Through a series of interviews and historical inquiries, Errol Morris dissects Anosognosia, ”a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability.”

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Anesthesiologists, in hugely disproportionate numbers compared to other doctors, are getting high.

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75 years after its founding, it’s still hard to explain exactly why Alcoholics Anonymous works.

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Atul Gawande’s recent commencement address at Stanford’s School of Medicine graduation. “Each of you is now an expert. Congratulations. So why—in your heart of hearts—do you not quite feel that way?”

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The doctor behind the autism-vaccine uproar is removed from the General Medical Council for being “dishonest,” “misleading” and “irresponsible” in his research into the MMR vaccine.

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How smallpox went from eradicated disease to the ideal weapon of bioterrorists.

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How an alcoholic doctor simultaneously saved his own life and made what could be the medical breakthrough of the century.

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What the sensation of uncontrollable itch and the phantom limbs of amputees can tell us about how the brain works.