I’ve read anecdotes about people with terminal illness who have apparently been able to stay alive long enough to witness some special event like their child’s wedding, etc. I don’t know how much of that is documented or how much is apocryphal. But can someone will themselves to die? Can they desire to die so much that they mentally can shut down their internal organs and such?
How could we possibly answer this? They’re not telling. If they were about to die anyway “will” wouldn’t show up in tests.
Some studies have shown statistically that women die more in the week following their birthdays and men die more the week before. This is called the Birthday effect. But these are large-scale population studies, not of the terminally ill.
A Swiss study found that the elderly were 14% more likely to die on their birthday. This might imply that they held on to reach that goal. Or that birthday stress contributed to an early death.
Until we dig 'em up, nobody will ever know.
Are we talking about someone already on their deathbed for which every breath is a struggle, or about someone in the prime of life and excellent health, or somewhere in between?
There certainly seem to be lots of stories about spouses passing within days of each other. I don’t know if it is conscious or not, but it does seem to lend some credence to the belief that you can “die of a broken heart.”
I mean, can someone be so depressed and wanting to die, that they can die without actually taking physical steps to end their life? (No hanging, drugs, gun, etc).
There is definitely a connection between mental and physical well-being. Stress, for example, has been shown in laboratory experiments to be horrendous to physical health. I also believe that people can die of a “broken heart”. In other words, the intensity of their grief is so painful that it literally kills them.
I’m not sure if a healthy person can will themselves to die, but it may be that a sick person can will themselves to stay alive a bit longer than they might otherwise. If there’s a special event coming up, the excitement and hopefulness they feel may produce biological changes that block out pain or something.
There are stories of people who are injured and lost in the woods for days being found alive by rescuers but dying almost immediately afterwards. The thought is that they were trying so hard to stay alive and find help that they were able to keep themselves going. But then when the rescuers come, they relax and maybe something like their blood pressure drops and they die. (I don’ t have a cite for this, but I remember reading it many times when during a period when I was reading a lot of rescue stories.)
This is what I was going to say. We don’t have much conscious control over our automatic body functions, but our automatic functions can be influenced by what’s happening in our conscious mind.
I’m tempted to say that if we’re eager to keep living, our conscious mind is staying active thinking about whatever it is that we’re eager to stay alive about. This then causes there to be more nervous system activity in general, which allows more of the body to receive the signals it needs to continue to function appropriately. Once the person has met their goal, they relax and stop being preoccupied by whatever they were before, nervous system activity drops, and now there’s less pressure on the rest of the body to perform because the nervous system isn’t shocking it quite as often.
That’s entirely speculative, but it sorta fits with what we know.