23 December 2004


Challenging a widely-held notion that dying people can somehow hold on and postpone their deaths until after Christmas or other important events in their lives, a researcher recently came up with a study to disprove this belief.

Donn Young studied more than 300,000 cancer patients and found that the supposed phenomenon is mostly based on wishful thinking and selective memories.

"The mind does play a role in illness," says Young, a biostatistician at Ohio State University's Comprehensive Cancer Center. "But the idea that death is something that an individual patient can control by sheer force of will --- just from looking at the data, this doesn't appear to be so."

Young and statistician Erinn Hade looked at Ohio death certificates for people who died of cancer from 1989 to 2000 and analyzed how many deaths occurred before and after three dates --- Christmas, Thanksgiving and the person's birthday.

"If there was an effect, you'd see a dip before," says Young, "and an increase after."

But THERE WAS NO DIP, and no significant difference in the proportion of cancer patients dying before an event and those dying after, according to the study, published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

[Chicago Sun-Times]

You can't postpone your death. No matter how unwilling you are. That's what Dr. Young is saying based on his study.

The abstract of his study can be read here.

While Dr. Young's study does not absolutely rule out the possibility that a very few dying individuals are able, by some unexplained process, to postpone death until it is convenient for them or their loved ones, he emphasizes that this particular population of dying people did not make their presence statistically strong enough to make a difference in his study.

For that to happen --- and granting that it does happen (sometimes) --- they would have to make up less than 1 percent of the deaths he studied, he says.

Well, whether we talk of terminally ill patients (Dr. Young's study involved 309,221 persons from Ohio dying with cancer) or not, I know for a fact that death really does not take a holiday.

If your time is up, then your time is up.

A good illustration is death-ridden December 2004 for most of us here in the Philippines. Typhoons Winnie and Yoyong killed more than a thousand in Quezon, Filipino icon FPJ was struck by cerebral thrombosis, the House Speaker's daughter killed by negligence, and many, many more deaths that do not hug the daily headlines but tell us that death comes whenever he likes it. No particular aversion to holidays or birthdays.

I have always thought that diseases and accidents happen to us only to provide "valid excuses" for our unannounced exits from this world.

A grim reminder for an equally grim December this year.

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