Medical Fatalism

One study described at Time.com claims that many obese people are happy with the way they are. Another study, at PhysOrg, reports that Latinas tend to be fatalistic about cancer:

To assess whether they were fatalistic, women were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “cancer is like a death sentence,” “cancer is God’s punishment,” “illness is a matter of chance,” “there is little that I can do to prevent cancer,” “it does not do any good to try to change the future because the future is in the hands of God.”

The dynamics operating in both cases may be slightly different, but the fatalism is the same. People are often happy with things the way they are because worrying or actually doing something seem like too much trouble, or even theologically presumptuous. Thus, it’s no surprise that many people aren’t interested in cryonics. If you could prove that it worked, that would certainly change people’s attitudes, but until then, we should predict low adoption rates for cryonics. Medical “fatalism” is common to everyone — the question is at which degree one becomes fatalistic. Put another way, everyone has limited time and money to invest in medicine, and everyone has a different threshold at which they care about it. The standard of mainstream acceptability moves towards the direction of more care rather than less over time, which might not always be a good thing, when the interventions aren’t proven to be beneficial.

Comments

  1. Jordan

    “If you could prove that it worked, that would certainly change people’s attitudes.”

    There’s a plethora of dietary and lifestyle changes that can substantially reduce the risk of cancer and other serious diseases with high confidence. Few people care. While my intuition says that evidence showing cryonics can work would convince people to sign up… observational evidence suggests otherwise.

  2. Arnie Christianson

    I know so many intelligent people who say things like “You can’t take it with you” and “We all die sometime”. Nobody is going to change their behavior beyond a certain point until they get over the “given” that “we’re all going to die”.

    Meanwhile, more and more cancers are being turned into chronic illnesses. Right before our eyes science is erasing these “death sentences”. Yet people don’t seem to notice, or if they do, they don’t seem to understand the implications.

  3. Michelle Waters

    It benefits people to accept things that they don’t see any way of changing. Weight can obviously be changed but it can easily take many months of focused effort together with a life long commitment to eat differently. This can be hard if it means, for instance, turning down food prepared or purchased for you by family or friends.

    Meanwhile, for a lot of people the priority might be dealing with other issues such as keeping a job or raising a child. Type II diabetes of course is expensive and debilitating enough to interfere greatly with those things but most people, including overweight people who are likely to get it think about other things most of time.

    Being able to think consistently about the consequences of obesity is luxury many people don’t have. I’ve recently lost a lot weight, going from obese to mildly overweight or the high end of normal, but it might not have been as easy if I trouble at my job or my children had a serious problem.

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