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Candid corpse

Liz Crossan, obituaries editor of the British Medical Journal, has been bemoaning the fact that many obituaries present a less than accurate picture of the late lamented. The BMJ at one point asked people to write their own in the hope that they would have insight into their own deficiencies and failures.

This strategy was not always successful, Ms Crossan admits, but the best self-written obituary came from the noted epidemiologist Archie Cochrane: "In 1957 he survived a professor of surgery's prognosis that he had only three months to live. He was not a real success as a professor, either as a teacher or on the senate, though his kindness to students was prov-erbial.

"He was a man with severe porphyria who smoked too much and was without the consolation of a wife, a religious belief, or a merit award -- but he didn't do so badly."

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