Views & Reviews Laying Foundations

Suicidal memes

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 21 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f4039
  1. Oliver Ellis, foundation year 1 doctor, Mersey Deanery
  1. oli.ellis{at}

Richard Dawkins defined a meme as a unit of culture that causes its host, a human brain, to spread it to others. And so ideas can develop lives of their own, much like viruses that travel from host to host.

In its recent issue on the topic of fiction, the US arts magazine Vice published an article called “Last words,” with photographs of glamorous stagings of the final moments of several female authors who committed suicide.

Just as certain pathogens kill their hosts while spreading, memes can too. Think of the unscientific reports that turned parents against the combined vaccine against MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella). Think of polio …

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