Bones of con­tention key to John Wilkes Booth mys­tery

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

The National Mu­seum of Health and Medicine could hold the key to an­swer­ing a con­tro­versy that’s nearly 150 years old: Is Pres­i­dent Lin­coln’s as­sas­sin ac­tu­ally buried in the his­toric Green Mount Ceme­tery in Bal­ti­more?

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial govern­ment re­port, John Wilkes Booth was killed on April 26, 1865, af­ter be­ing sur­rounded in a barn in Port Royal, Va., 12 days af­ter he shot and killed Lin­coln. His body was even­tu­ally re­turned to the Booth fam­ily, who buried him in an un­marked grave in the fam­ily plot at Green Mount in 1869. But since then, the­o­ries have cir­cu­lated that the man shot in that barn was not Booth and that he had es­caped jus­tice. One the­ory sug­gests he lived un­til 1903, when he sup­pos­edly com­mit­ted sui­cide in Ok­la­homa.

One way to an­swer the ques­tion would re­quire ex­hum­ing the body in Bal­ti­more. Booth’s descen­dants—sup­ported by the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion, which said it thinks the Booth es­cape the­ory is worth a closer look—filed a court case to ex­hume the body, but that re­quest was de­nied in 1995. The judge’s de­ci­sion cited pos­si­bly se­vere wa­ter dam­age to the plot, ev­i­dence that sib­lings were buried on top of Booth, and the “less than con­vinc­ing es­cape/coverup the­ory.”

So, how does the National Mu­seum of Health and Medicine fit in? The Sil­ver Spring, Md., mu­seum holds three of Booth’s cer­vi­cal ver­te­brae, which were kept by the U.S. Army af­ter an au­topsy. Given ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy, DNA from the bones of Booth’s thes­pian brother, Ed­win, could be com­pared with DNA from the mu­seum’s bones to end the con­tro­versy. And a di­rect de­scen­dent has agreed to the ex­huma­tion of Ed­win Booth, who was buried in Bos­ton.

How­ever, ear­lier this year, the U.S. Army Med­i­cal Com­mand, which is in charge of the mu­seum, de­nied the re­quest, since a pro­posed DNA test would re­quire us­ing less than 0.4 grams of the bones. In a let­ter to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who helped sub­mit the re­quest, the mu­seum said “the need to pre­serve th­ese bones for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions com­pels us to de­cline the de­struc­tive test.”

Lights, cam­era, blood test?

Walk onto any Hol­ly­wood stu­dio lot, and you’re likely to see a bevy of trail­ers serv­ing as dress­ing rooms, mo­bile of­fices or even a cafe­te­ria. But lately, there has been an­other kind of trailer seen out­side sound­stages, and at this one, a doc­tor will see you. Not Doo­gie Howser, mind you, but a real one.

It’s spon­sored by the Mo­tion Pic­ture and Tele­vi­sion Fund, a char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion started in 1921 by some of Hol­ly­wood’s leg­endary early stars, in­clud­ing Char­lie Chap­lin, Dou­glas Fair­banks and Mary Pick­ford. Health Wheels makes the rounds on Hol­ly­wood back­lots four times a week, ac­cord­ing to the L.A. Daily News, serv­ing em­ploy­ees who work be­hind the scenes on TV shows and movies. They rou­tinely work 14hour days, mak­ing it hard to leave the lot to see a physi­cian.

The 30-foot-long mo­bile clinic in­cludes an exam room and nurse’s sta­tion and can han­dle ev­ery­thing from skin biop­sies to blood work to ear wax buildup. (Us­ing ear plugs on set is com­mon in the stu­dios.) But get­ting an exam in the clinic isn’t free, as the costs are billed to in­sur­ance. Still, the clinic is just about the clos­est you can get to a doc­tor mak­ing a house call.

The re­luc­tant cen­te­nar­i­ans

Med­i­cal ad­vances have made it pos­si­ble for many of us to live to see our 100th birthdays, but more than half of adults don’t think they want to blow out that many can­dles.

A study from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter con­ducted this year found that 56% of re­spon­dents said they be­lieved they would not want to take ad­van­tage of med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy that would al­low them to slow the ag­ing process and live till at least 120 years old.

More­over, 69% of re­spon­dents said their ideal life span would be be­tween 79 and 100 years old.

The study, part of the Pew Re­search Cen­ter’s Re­li­gion and Pub­lic Life Pro­ject, comes as ex­treme old age may soon be not-so-ex­treme thanks to med­i­cal ad­vances. But the find­ings sug­gest that it’s not old age that gives most peo­ple pause, but the drug in­dus­try.

There’s cer­tainly op­ti­mism for the fu­ture: Only 10% of re­spon­dents said they thought our gray­ing pop­u­la­tion is bad for so­ci­ety, and 56% be­lieve their own lives will get even bet­ter over the next 10 years. Even when it comes to ex­treme life ex­ten­sion, just more than half of re­spon­dents (51%) said they wor­ried it would strain nat­u­ral and so­cial re­sources and be limited to the very wealthy.

But re­spon­dents were more skep­ti­cal about the med­i­cal ad­vances they’d need to make that hap­pen. Only 24% of re­spon­dents said they were con­fi­dent that new ther­a­pies are thor­oughly tested be­fore be­ing mar­keted, and 41% be­lieve med­i­cal treat­ments “of­ten cre­ate as many prob­lems as they solve.”


“There are hos­pi­tals out there that have been in­de­pen­dent for 80 years and they’re say­ing, ‘We’re go­ing to be in­de­pen­dent for the next 100 years.’ That’s go­ing to be a tall or­der. As other hos­pi­tals con­sol­i­date and grow around you, what­ever niche you had will va­por­ize.”

—Lisa Gold­stein, an an­a­lyst of not-for-profit hos­pi­tals at Moody’s In­vestors Ser­vice

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