Images of death

Bryan Curtis was an American citizen, living in Florida, who started smoking at age 13. When the father of two boys was 33 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within 10 weeks. Wanting others to benefit from his awful fate, he asked that young children be shown images of how shriveled his body had become as the cancer took hold. Reporter Sue Landry from Florida’s St Petersburg Times published an article on Bryan, ‘before and after’ images of the healthy young man at 33, and the wasted wreck of a man 10 weeks later just before he passed away. These two images are now printed on the packets of cigarettes in Australia.

Read Sue Landry’s full article to find out more. Please be aware that some people may find the images in this article disturbing, as Bryan Curtis is shown during the final stages of his illness.

Leaving a legacy

It has been a long week when you think about death and dying. First, the ghastly and incomprehensible slaughter of innocent children in an American school – along with the teachers who tried in vain to protect them. This was counterbalanced by a warm and dignified farewell to the great dame – Dame Elizabeth Murdoch who taught our society that there is no end to the good you can do when you give. Whilst the life and example of 103-year old Dame Elizabeth is uplifting, there is little, if nothing, we can take from the Newtown massacre that might be seen as a positive. Even in the unlikely event that America introduces stricter gun laws, it is hard to conclude that the death of so many children and teachers was worth this achievement. But there is someone whose unexpectedly early demise has bequeathed a powerful message to help others avoid the same fate, and that is American mechanic, Bryan Curtis, who passed away from lung cancer in 1999. Diagnosed earlier that year, the robustly healthy 33-year-old lasted just 10 weeks. His wish, before he died, was to share his story of 20 years of smoking two packets a day, to help others understand the dangers of smoking.

His mother contacted journalist Sue Landy of the St Petersburg Times and since then his story has gone around the world. And now it is in Australia, with images of the healthy young man, and his dying self 10 weeks later, staring out from packets of cigarettes. The contrast is horrible – a man in the prime of life, reduced to a shell of a human, whose soul already seems to have left his body. But whilst we all generally want to say, enough, let’s look at something more positive and uplifting, the courage of Bryan and his mother needs to be applauded – as does the courage of those at the Department of Health who decided to use these images to discourage those who find it difficult to quit smoking.

As we have learnt from the Newtown killings this week, life is random and we cannot automatically assume we will have years ahead of us. So we know it is important to ‘carpe diem’ and make the most of every day. But for those hooked on a life-threatening habit such as smoking, the first way of seizing the day surely has to be to stop that habit immediately. The image of Bryan is simply awful – but the effect it will have may prove to be something of great beauty indeed.

What do you think? Are these images too awful to show? Or are they important in the fight against tobacco addiction and lung cancer?

Written by Kaye Fallick