Delaying death for the holidays

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 30th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The Grim Reaper doesn’t take rain checks or a Christmas vacation.

That’s the reality behind the findings of an Ohio State University study, which dispels the notion that cancer patients can cling to life to avoid dying just before or during major holidays and birthdays.

Smaller studies had previously backed claims that a patient’s will to live could keep them alive during holidays. But researchers found no such evidence after examining the death patterns of more than three-hundred-thousand cancer patients in Ohio.

There were no noticeable dips in death rates before holidays and no noticeable spikes afterward. Researchers actually found that women were more likely to die right before their birthdays than after.

Other research has shown a dip in the number of deaths among Jewish men just before Passover, the religion’s holiest day of the year.

But in the current study, of the twelve-thousand cancer patients who died around Christmas, half died the week before or on the day of the holiday and half died the week after it.

So why does it seem like so many caregivers and family members of terminally ill patients notice this phenomenon? Researchers say it could be because deaths that occur right after holidays stick out in a person’s memory more than deaths that seem to happen on random days.

However, the researchers did not study death patterns before or after graduations, weddings or anniversaries, events they say could potentially be even more meaningful to patients than holidays.