Did 10 Liters of Coca-Cola and 30 Cigarettes a Day Kill New Zealand Woman?

Odds are high for a low life expectancy.

If truth in advertising extended to the grave, Coca-Cola would not be the only brand name embossed on American—and New Zealander—tombstones. (Photo: Beawiharta/Reuters)

Apr 20, 2012
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

A 30-year-old New Zealand mother of eight has died. Actually, Natasha Harris of Invercargill died 26 months ago of a heart attack. Her February 2010 passing is news today because pathologist Dr. Dan Mornin has testified at an inquest to Harris’s death that she suffered from hypokalemia, or low potassium. Mornin attributed the low potassium to what he deemed excessive consumption of the syrupy carbonated beverage Coca-Cola. The pathologist further noted that toxic levels of caffeine, a go-to ingredient in Coke, may have contributed to Harris’s cardiac arrest.

Harris, the Associated Press reports, downed 8 to 10 liters (2.1 to 2.6 gallons) of Coke a day.

“The first thing she would do in the morning was to have a drink of Coke beside her bed and the last thing she would do at night was have a drink of Coke,” said Harris’s partner, Chris Hodgkinson, in a deposition. “She was addicted to Coke.”

Defenders of Coca-Cola will be quick to note that Hodgkinson is not a doctor, and his diagnosis of addiction is to some extent a layman’s hunch. Hodgkinson further noted that Harris smoked approximately 30 cigarettes per day, that she experienced blood pressure problems in the months prior to her fatal heart attack, ate very little food, and lacked energy.

It is easy to adopt a flippant, superior, and dismissive tone in relation to the circumstances around the death of this mother of eight. The facts remain that eight kids in New Zealand are without a mother, and that she fell woefully short of her presumed life expectancy.

The supposition is high that Harris’s death was precipitated by a long and intense course of self-administered toxins. The tragic reality is that human beings are not born with an inherent drive to grow up and pollute our bodies to a point where that withered physical shell’s only option is to give up on us. Natasha Harris’s cigarette and Coca-Cola consumption—and her exclusion of healthy nutrients—were learned behaviors. Some of us think we know better how to live than Natasha Harris did. We should honor her ordeal and her memory by doing all we can to share that knowledge.

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