Survival Predictions May Hasten Death
A letter to the British Medical Journal by Daniel J. Benor, MD.
I have always been concerned about predictions of death, a subject discussed by glare et al (1). While in some cases predictions may be a boon to seriously ill people and their families, in other instances they may hasten death unnecessarily - particularly when given months and years in advance.
Studies show that people can choose, to some degree, the timing of their death, as when there is a particular reason to go on living. For example, people die more often after a major holiday than before (2). In the literature on psychological treatments for cancer, when people fine a reason to live, their disease may even arrest or regress (3).
On the opposite side, and here is my concern, there is the Musselman phenomenon (noted first in German concentration camps) of giving up and dying within hours (4). By predicting a death, the doctor may, in effect, be "pointing the bone." The literature on hex deaths points to the possibility that negative expectations may contribute to an early demise (5). Negative effects of spiritual healing may also be activated in this way. Shamanic literature has many case reports to this effect (5).
So a caution to those who are in the position to be asked to predict people's deaths. Every prediction is based on a probability. A prediction can be stated as, "You have a 90% probability of dying in three months" or "You have a 10% probability of surviving in three months." In the complementary, alternative healing community we add: "So why don't we see how we can help you be in the 10% group, if you'd like to work towards that goal."
Copyright © 2003 by Daniel J. Benor, M.D.
Reprinted with permission of the author, P.O. Box 502 Medford, NJ 08055