Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Approach of holidays has no effect on time of death


The idea that dying people hang on to life in order to celebrate one more birthday or holiday lacks any scientific basis, say scientists who reviewed two decades’ worth of research.

"The studies published to date have not convincingly established that death can be postponed through force of will or hastened by the loss of the desire to live," say Judith A. Skala, R.N., Ph.D., and Kenneth E. Freedland, Ph.D., of Washington University School of Medicine.

Available research is contradictory, shows only modest effects and is often of poor quality, Skala and Freedland say. In many cases, these studies also fail to explain any mechanisms that would delay or advance death.

Their review appears in the May issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

This hypothesis, first presented in a sociology journal 30 years ago, suggested that people who would have otherwise died can will themselves to stay alive in order to experience some personally or culturally meaningful event. But the idea doesn’t hold up after a close look at the body of evidence in this literature.

For instance, one study claimed that there was a 19 percent dip in deaths among prominent Americans in the month before their birthdays and a 14 percent rise in the month afterward. However, Skala and Freedland say, the original authors include the birth month itself in the "after" category. That meant that some of the "post-birthday" deaths may have occurred before the actual birthday.

Another study of natural death, suicides and homicides in Philadelphia in 1982 found near-chance rates of death in the one-, two- and three-month periods around the birthdays of the dead.

Two studies analyzed the deaths of members of certain religious groups before and after their major holidays. A study of Catholic priests found no variation in mortality around Christmas, Easter, birthdays or anniversaries of their ordination. Another found a dip in deaths before and a rise after Christmas, but no such pattern around Easter.

Other researchers claimed a 20 percent rise in deaths after Christmas. A closer look at their data found that the rise really began five days before the holiday and the death rate on Christmas itself was higher than the average rate for the preceding or following weeks.

Similarly, one study concluded that deaths among Jewish men were more likely to show a dip before and a rise after Passover, while another study found just the opposite pattern. And a study in Israel found no patterns around major holidays at all, either among Jews or non-Jewish Israelis.

Writing in the same issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, Gary Smith, Ph.D., of Pomona College analyzed Asian-American deaths in relation to the Harvest Moon Festival. The Harvest Moon Festival is celebrated in the fall by Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese.

Only one or two subgroups showed any significant variation from pure chance, and then only by pushing the day of the festival into the "after-the-festival" category.

But thinking of the festival day as falling after the festival makes no sense, Smith says, because the central ritual--a ceremonial meal--happens late that night.

"If a person is really able to postpone death until after the celebration of an important ceremonial occasion, shouldn’t she be able to postpone death until after the main ceremonial activity?" Smith asks.

How individuals are supposed to control the advance or delay of death is an often-unanswered question, too. Some authors cite "stress reactions" or the benefits of "social support," but offer few details.

Future studies will have to be better designed to find valid answers, Skala and Freedland say. That means matching patients with similar illnesses to eliminate a major variable; learning how patients actually feel about birthdays and religious holidays, rather than assuming their significance; and including useful data on possible psychosomatic mechanisms that could tie the calendar to their time of death.

"Until then," they say, "speculation will undoubtedly continue about the differences between people who seem to lose steam near the end of a race and those who appear to find one last, impossible spurt of strength within themselves."

Judith A. Skala | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Innovative technique for shaping light could solve bandwidth crunch

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's MAVEN mission observes ups and downs of water escape from Mars

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>