Magazine article Science News

Death Waits for No One: Deferred Demises Take a Couple of Hits

Magazine article Science News

Death Waits for No One: Deferred Demises Take a Couple of Hits

Article excerpt

Two new reports challenge the idea, which has been promoted in a series of high-profile studies, that elderly people suffering from serious physical illnesses can prolong their lives just long enough to experience a personally meaningful event, such as a birthday or a religious holiday.

An analysis of California death records from 1985 through 2000, conducted by economist Gary Smith of Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., indicates that elderly Asian immigrants don't put off dying until the week after the Harvest Moon Festival, a major annual event for them. That result counters a 1990 study, based on California data from 1960 through 1984. The earlier investigation found that mortality rates of Chinese women at least 75 years of age dipped in the week before the Harvest Moon Festival and rose in the week after.

Smith's data analysis reveals no sign of death postponement before the Harvest Moon Festival for Chinese-, Korean-, and Vietnamese-Americans. This result held, regardless of whether he defined elderly as being a minimum of 65 years old or 75 years old. It also made no difference whether deaths on the day of the festival were classified as occurring before or after the event.

Moreover, Smith found that the original data from 1960 to 1984 exhibit a death-postponement pattern only if deaths on the festival day are classified as having occurred after the festival. That statistical partition makes no sense, he argues, because the festival's central ritual--a family meal--takes place at midnight at the end of the holiday. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.