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Medicine Science

How Stephen Hawking Has Defied the Odds For 50 Years 495

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Now aged 70, Prof Stephen Hawking, winner of 12 honorary degrees, a CBE and in 2009 awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is an extraordinary man — but what is perhaps most extraordinary about Hawking is how he has defied and baffled medical experts who predicted he had just months to live in 1963, when he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a disease that only 5% survive for more than a decade after diagnosis. Hawking started having symptoms shortly before his 21st birthday. At first they were mild — a bit of clumsiness and few unexplained stumbles and falls but, predictably, by the very nature of the disease, his incurable condition worsened. The diagnosis came as a great shock, but also helped shape his future." (Read on, below.)
Pickens continues: "'Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research, and I got engaged to a girl called Jane Wilde, whom I had met just about the time my condition was diagnosed,' says Hawking. 'That engagement changed my life. It gave me something to live for.' Another important thing in Hawking's life has been his work and at the age of 70, Hawking continues working at the University of Cambridge and recently published a new book — The Grand Design. 'Being disabled, or physically challenged, makes no difference to how my scientific colleagues treat me apart from practical matters like waiting while I write what I want to say.' Finally the grandfather-of-three continues to seek out new challenges and recently experienced first-hand what space travel feels like by taking a zero-gravity flight in a specially modified plane. 'People are fascinated by the contrast between my very limited physical powers, and the vast nature of the universe I deal with,' says Hawking. 'I'm the archetype of a disabled genius, or should I say a physically challenged genius, to be politically correct. At least I'm obviously physically challenged. Whether I'm a genius is more open to doubt.'"
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How Stephen Hawking Has Defied the Odds For 50 Years

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  • by jo_ham ( 604554 ) <joham999@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:10AM (#38636480)

    Remember when he was held up as a textbook example of the types of people who would "not survive" under a universal healthcare system?

    Until, of course, he pointed out that not only was he born in Britain under such a system, but that he owes his life to it many times over.

    The retractions on those stories (those who even bothered to correct them) were amusing.

    I still think his most significant contribution to mankind is teaming up with Pink Floyd ;) What's a PhD when you can be a rock star? (Brian Cox and Brian May, quiet you!)

  • by Simon Brooke ( 45012 ) <> on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:10AM (#38636482) Homepage Journal

    Yes, the National Health Service is wonderful.

  • The man has focus (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Demonoid-Penguin ( 1669014 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:18AM (#38636530) Homepage

    Given a reason to live he sure hasn't wasted the opportunity. I'm betting he's never even read slashdot, let alone posted here.

    Where as I... oh crap!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:21AM (#38636544)

    Somebody else mentioned the "privileged care" angle to me earlier this week.

    Though it may be true Hawking has better access to care than others today, when he was diagnosed at 21 I doubt anyone was falling all over themselves to work with yet another young academic struck ill. It is nothing short of astounding that he has survived (without a respirator) in the face of ALS, and equally astounding that his will to continue working in the face of losing all motor control has not been fazed.

    No discredit to his staff a medical team, which I'm sure must be very able. He's beaten the odds against death, lost control of his physical body, and continued to do pioneering science work in the face of it. Those facets of Hawking have less to do with his current level of access to care, and more to do with his DNA and courage.

    Really, amazing dude.

  • Creationists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:24AM (#38636578)

    The funny thing is that I've heard a lot of creationists saying his condition is a result of defying God (by being a scientist apparently). If I were a creationist, then the fact that he's defied his condition for half a century would tell me that either 1) Hawkings is stronger than God or 2) someone up there is looking out for.

    But I'm not a creationist, so I'll chalk it up to his willingness to fight and his access to good healthcare. And maybe random dumb luck.

  • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:33AM (#38636632)

    Guy's done what's required to warrant obscene amounts of care being provided to him. He's offered value in return for it in the form of cash and his sick smart brain.

    Yes, that, and being born in the UK where he would receive a similar level of care if he were a penniless dolt.

    In the U.S. cash and societal value might make the difference of live or die, for him.

    In most of the "developing world," he would have to have been born into the richest of families to even hope for basic medical care that would have kept him alive.

  • Re:Creationists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrsurb ( 1484303 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:43AM (#38636696)

    I'm a Christian but not a creationist. I have a degree in physics and a degree in theology. And I thank God for Stephen Hawking and the insight that his incredible mind has given us into the universe, despite his defiance of God. I read his book "A Brief History of Time" and it blew my mind, it was one of the factors that led me to study physics. I used his latest book, "The Grand Design" in my honours thesis for my theology degree which was an investigation into the appearance of fine-tuning in the universe.

    Not looking for an argument, just want to point out that not all Christians have the anti-science attitudes that seem so prevalent in American evangelicanlism.

  • by Night64 ( 1175319 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:46AM (#38636720)
    It's funny when americans are faced with public healthcare systems that work. Actually, it's not funny, it's sad.
  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:53AM (#38636772) Journal

    Yep, universal healthcare is pretty awesome.

    I wonder how would a young 21 year old academic with ALS fare in the USA.

  • Re:Creationists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:55AM (#38636776)
    They would say whatever crossed their mind, as long as it supported their sense of superiority and self righteousness, rationality and theology be damned.
  • Re:Creationists (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:59AM (#38636806)

    Can you please cite some of these creationists who are saying that Hawkings was struck with this illness due to "defying God"? I'd seriously like to see this because I really don't think this is the case and you're just using (yes, "using" is the term) Hawking to push your own social agenda.

  • Re:Creationists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:12AM (#38636882) Homepage

    The funny thing is that I've heard a lot of creationists saying his condition is a result of defying God (by being a scientist apparently). If I were a creationist, then the fact that he's defied his condition for half a century would tell me that either 1) Hawkings is stronger than God or 2) someone up there is looking out for.

    Whenever evil flourishes, the innocent and the righteous are slaughtered or struck by injury or disease the fanatics always rewrite reality until it fits their religion. The innocent weren't truly innocent, the righteous weren't truly righteous, evil exists as a punishment for our sins and so on. God is perfect and infallible so if you punched them in the face and said "If God didn't want you to get punched in the face, why didn't he stop me?" they'd secretly accept that as some sort of punishment or trial by God for their pride or to test their faith. If I'd given them a gracious donation to their church, they'd see it as a blessing from God.

    There's always some explanation that fits reality, and when it really doesn't you just say he works in "mysterious ways" that us humans can't comprehend. If he'd died, that is God. If he continues to live with the disease, that's also God prolonging it. If he'd been miraculously cured, that would be by the grace of God. It's like a game show with God behind every door, no matter which you pick. Religion is the anthropomorphization of reality, that behind everything there's an invisible man pulling invisible strings. And no matter what you say you can't prove the strings don't exist.

  • by MikeBabcock ( 65886 ) <> on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:13AM (#38636892) Homepage Journal

    What's sad is when I see people of all stripes debating against public healthcare, forgetting that they're condemning future thinkers or leaders or writers just because they (or their families) can't afford their own healthcare.

  • by jank1887 ( 815982 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:14AM (#38636904)

    I don't think he was saying it was perfect or great. He said it worked. No system is perfect. You just try for better, and sometimes you get it. Depending on the competition, sometimes it's not even that hard to get.

  • Re:Genius? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:15AM (#38636912)

    LOL thats Hawking himself who wrote "Whether I'm a genius is more open to doubt".
    He's a humble guy despite all he's done. Basically an anti-politician. That's what would make him a great national leader, if he wanted to do that. Him being smart enough to not want to take a bite of that sh1t sandwich says a lot about the current world situation.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:15AM (#38636916) Homepage

    But even a not-great one routinely outperforms the US system. There are horror stories to be found in both, but they're a lot easier to find in the US.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:21AM (#38636962)

    And, probably in the grand scheme of things, although a single person like him may be expensive, in total the amount of healthcare tax money being spent towards them is no big deal compared to dealing with, say, the effects of excessive alcohol intake in the general population.

    I'm over here in Finland, somewhat severely disabled (nowhere near like Hawking, though), and can't help but feel that the kinds of systems we have in place also play a crucial part in making sure that people like myself are actually rather independently contributing to society up to their capacity instead of dropping out of the loop totally, becoming fully dependent charity objects... whom could be then blamed even more for the full dependency they have ended up in.

  • by rAiNsT0rm ( 877553 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:24AM (#38637002) Homepage

    And if you explain that these system cost *less* than what we currently spend as a country on healthcare everyone ignores it and continues ranting on about entitlement and welfare and other bullshit divisive issues ingrained in their feeble minds.

  • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:31AM (#38637064) Homepage Journal

    I suspect you'd find that most of these idiots repeating the "death panel" meme are those who themselves would have let Hawking die as a young academic, to save money.

  • by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:36AM (#38637098)

    It's amazing listening to Americans discuss the care of people with medical conditions. They just have... no... idea.

  • by KeithJM ( 1024071 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:47AM (#38637178) Homepage
    Actually, he'd probably do fine -- US universities generally have great benefits for their employees (good health insurance policies) and tend to be pretty flexible with sick leave for professors. My dad had a brain tumor and took 2 years of sick leave without any discussion of long-term disability, etc. There was another professor who had long-term kidney failure who basically gave a couple of lectures each semester for a decade and wasn't pressured to do more than that.

    If you have health insurance, the US system is hard to beat.

    The better question would be how would a young blue-collar worker with ALS fare. He would be completely screwed.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:07AM (#38637366)
    (Psst... It shouldn't matter whether or not they're thinkers, writers, etc. There be dragons down that road.)
  • by Urkki ( 668283 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:23AM (#38637538)

    can't afford their own healthcare

    So your solution is to force others at gunpoint to do it? I'm all for helping others but making it mandatory is evil. The ends don't justify the means.

    IMNSHO, "help to maintain the society you live in, as agreed by the society collectively, while doing your small part to steer the society to the direction your want, or GTFO" is perfectly fair deal. From this follows, it's perfectly valid to decide on what needs to be done, then collect taxes to do it, even when "it" is public health care system. And, same as for example requiring kids to be taught to read and write, ultimately everything required by so called civilized society is "at gunpoint".

  • by iserlohn ( 49556 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:35AM (#38637664) Homepage

    But the argument is that the existing privatised system enables the type of inefficient behavior you just described.

    In countries that perform better than the US in healthcare, even the non-fully-nationalised systems, the state plays a very big role in regulation and legislation to enable the type of efficiencies you described. However, to admit that there is a role for government is not in the playbook of American conservatives, because they are afraid to promote any idea that deviates from their "Government always leads to inefficiency" script.

  • by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:45AM (#38637778)

    It's funny you mention that because I've lived both within the US and outside and have found the experience to be the opposite, in terms of how the patient is treated. Yes, there is more financial difficulty for Americans who aren't in a financially comfortable situation, but I've found the healthcare in the States to be consistently on par, if not better, to what you'll find in Europe and definitely superior to what you get in Asia.

  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:46AM (#38637782) Homepage Journal
    The problem is that 25 year olds are not "kids", and anyone in their mid-20s (presumably with a Bachelor's degree) should not be riding on the backs of the public.
  • by pnutjam ( 523990 ) <slashdot.borowicz@org> on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:49AM (#38637820) Homepage Journal
    I was forced at gunpoint to wear clothes to work this morning, I feel your pain.
    I was also forced at gunpoint to drive the speed limit and slow down as I went through a school zone.

    Where are my rights!

    you can play too!
  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:50AM (#38637830) Homepage Journal
    What's sad is when I see people of all stripes who trot out straw men, assuming that there is no other way of paying for health care other than using the state to take the money from other people.

    thinkers or leaders or writers

    I'd prefer engineers, scientists, or artists. We're already doling it out to the politicians and liberal arts "Occupiers".

  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:54AM (#38637888) Homepage Journal
    Then why do we allow protest? Perhaps we should enforce the silence of the public "at gunpoint"... after all, they are impeding progress. Life, liberty, and property are outdated.
  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:58AM (#38637926)

    Having lived in Germany, England, and the United States, and used all three, I can say that while the NHS may not be perfect, it is lightyears ahead of even top-end private care in the United States (which I've also used). The UK would be complete fools to follow the US model (as some conservatives in government seem to want). People complain about 2-week waits in the UK for elective non-life threatening procedures, while in the US somone in my family had to wait 6-8 weeks for an angiogram after failing an EKG and having acute symptoms of heart trouble, and another waited 5 weeks for an appointment with a neurologist after having what may have been a mild embolism, complete with excruciating headache and shockingly low body temperature.

    Americans who think our "free market ueber alles" system works better than Germany's strictly regulated market, or the UK's (or France's, or Canada's) are either idealogically blinded idiots, or have never taken a serious look beyond our borders. And I say that as one with a "cadallac" level of insurance in the US, which pales compared to what we had with the NHS when we lived in England (and what I received from the German system when I lived there).

  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:02PM (#38637976) Homepage Journal
    Here's something [] to counter your anecdotes. For a prominent one, Terry Pratchett has early onset Alzheimer's but can't be put on medications for it because he's too young. That's bureaucrats overriding medical science. Socialized health care isn't interested in improving the quality of life. As a consequence, he will likely be taking his own life soon-- amusingly, in Switzerland. I guess assisted suicide isn't covered in the UK.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:26PM (#38638224)

    Sure, the US has awesome care if you are lucky enough to be able to afford it. But a HUGE chunk of the country isn't that lucky, and of the ones who can, they often pay a HUGE price to be able to afford it. And even then, once they've got it...yeah everything often goes great until things really get bad, and then that is when the insurance companies get creative in finding ways to cut you off.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:30PM (#38638258) Homepage

    U.S. heathcare is only good for the rich.

    My daughter was having problems with her doctors for her pregnancy claiming they cant do more than 1 ultrasound by law, she fell down and they REFUSED to do an ultrasound to make sure the placenta did not tear away.

    I had her switch to my doctor who is a high cost doctor, but owns all the gear they use for Prenatal care. He took 15 minutes to check her out and give her another ultrasound to calm her fears. He also found that her iron levels were very low, something her Idiot doctor at the hospital could not be bothered to check.

    She is married to an army soldier so they dont make very much, only $21.00 an hour for him. They cant afford to go to a competent doctor so instead use one of the doctors that are based in the hospital.

    NOTE: my doctor is a very expensive one that has a lot of the equipment he owns and does outpatient surgury in his office, but he charged her NOTHING for a 1 hour personal visit on a weekend.

    American healthcare is crap, we have a lot of crap doctors and crap hospitals with a few of the good ones that actually went into medicine to help people. Couple that with corrupt Insurance companies dictating to Doctors and Hospitals as well as stupid laws and you get crapcare that is what we enjoy here.

    If you dont have a great job that has good healthcare insurance as well as a high paying job, you cant afford healthcare. With more than 50% of us making poverty level, no wonder that most of this country is fat, unhealthy, and not seeing a doctor regularly for health maintenance.

  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:04PM (#38638770) Homepage

    Capitalism says we have limited resources, but is there really a shortage of people who can help others ? Instead of hiding the medical practice behind the giant paywall that is med. school, maybe if you didn't need to be the son of a crooked senator to afford the damn piece of paper, we could crank out enough doctors to take care of everyone.

  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:10PM (#38638842) Homepage

    The only person holding that gun against your temple is yourself, by living in a structured society. If you don't like paying taxes and being somewhat protected from the evils of the world, you can disappear into the forest and live like your ancestors.

    But, seeing as your last name is "Coward", I think you like the safety that social gun provides.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:15PM (#38638900)

    If you dont have a great job that has good healthcare insurance as well as a high paying job, you cant afford healthcare. With more than 50% of us making poverty level, no wonder that most of this country is fat, unhealthy, and not seeing a doctor regularly for health maintenance.

    We're a third-world country that refuses to admit it.

  • by rev0lt ( 1950662 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:25PM (#38639068)

    America is not Britain, France, Canada, Germany, or any other country. America has it's own citizens with their own culture and their own viewpoints.

    That's part of the problem - America is run by big dollar companies, and has been for decades. There's no "citizenship" in politics, decisions are made by pouring money on the pockets of the right people - and it's all legal. In every other country, if that ever happended, would be considered a crime.
    The time it takes to get it done doesn't really matter, when you haven't started it yet.

  • by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:26PM (#38639076)
    "Riding on the backs of the public"? They're the future of the public, unless you want society to be full of people without college degrees. Your view of society is ridiculously selfish and short-sighted. No wonder you think the way you do.
  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:33PM (#38639174) Homepage

    I'll take a big inefficient government that saves my life, over a small government that puts my fate in the hands of insurance companies.

  • by maple_shaft ( 1046302 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:38PM (#38639238)

    I've not had a ton of experience with the government supplied healthcare.

    other than what I get through the military, which is GREAT

    My wife had to get on Medicare because I lost my job and she was pregnant and NEEDED some type of coverage

    Maybe I am missing something but both military healtchcare including the VA and Medicare are both essentially government provided healthcare. Of course the military healthcare is top-notch, our boys in uniform putting themselves in harms way deserve no less. Medicare for your wife too means it is government subsidized so while they pay out lower to providers you have the security of knowing that some scheming health insurance company isn't going to try and find a way to deny you coverage. Medicare will always be there (for the near future at least).

    I am fortunate enough to have a good job which provides me private health insurance and the care I get is excellent but what really sucks about private health insurance for most people is that they live in fear of being dropped or priced out of the plan if they end up needing it too much. The appeal of a nationalized system to me is that I don't have to worry about engaging in grueling battles over the phone with insurance companies for tens of thousands of dollars when they just decide that they are not going to pay for your medical bills. Thats BS, in a civilized society I should be able to go to the hospital, leave after treatment and go on with my life. I would gladly pay higher taxes for that kind of luxury than live in fear that going to the hospital for a major problem could result in my going bankrupt.

  • by rhakka ( 224319 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:31PM (#38639890)

    if individual charity was adequate to solve these kinds of societal problems we wouldn't be having this debate because the problem would already be solved. Obviously there are not enough Ron Pauls out there to solve it through their own selflessness.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:39PM (#38639990) Homepage Journal

    No, that's not obvious at all.

    What IS obvious is that where there is an opportunity for a government to grab some power by instituting some new program under the guise of helping society somehow, the government will grab that power, will grab money for that power and eventually will destroy the very system that it set off to 'save' from a non-existing threat.

    Gov't money is what is causing rise of prices in education, health care, houses, and all things now, that the USD and bonds are the current debt bubble being inflated.

    It's not for the lack of charitable people or lack of doctors only charging what patients can pay.

    It's gov't money, which come with regulations, that create monopolies, which lock out competition, including monopolies on health care, health insurance (which should be insurance and not managed health accounts, as they are now). People used to pay doctors out of pocket because the costs were low and falling, then came in government to fix an non-existing problem.

    The consequences are here now.

  • by expatriot ( 903070 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:52PM (#38640138)

    I grew up in the US and now live in the UK.

    If you have money (or very good insurance) the US system is slightly better. It is always faster for non-urgent care and almost always faster for urgent care.

    I, like my relatives in France, have additional insurance. BUPA in my case ensures that any referral from my local doctor is seen quickly and I have a private room if I have an operation.

    To me that seems like a good compromise. Good basic care for everyone and extra payments will get you more convenience.

    I have some direct experience of what medical care is like in the US if you do not have very good insurance. I would not wish that on an enemy.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:28PM (#38640618) Homepage Journal

    Were he American, he would probably be living in a 1 bedroom slum with 3 or 4 other medical pariahs. Crazy politicians would be lamenting his terrible sense of entitlement because he blinked (slowly) in morse code that he would like a new battery for his no longer working wheelchair.

  • by KhabaLox ( 1906148 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:34PM (#38641576)

    Citation needed. I often hear or see this claim made, but I've never seen any numbers or sources backing it up.

    However, assuming it is true, one possible explanation is that the very highest quality medical care is available at the very highest prices in the USA. Of course, this is completely irrelevant to the question of how best to provide health care to the population at large.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.