back to article Chronically ill people 'happier if they abandon hope', say docs

Health researchers in America have suggested that it is better for people suffering from severe illness to give up any hope that their condition might improve. “Hope is an important part of happiness,” said Dr Peter A Ubel, one of the authors of the "happily hopeless" study, “but there’s a dark side of hope". Essentially, …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can believe this...

    I was recently told that if I had surgery for a long term health complaint, I'd probably end up with a un-reversible colostomy. I got used to the idea, and I don't think it would have been a big problem in the end.

    In the end, I avoided surgery.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Doctors are smart...

    "It's better, they argue, to have your spouse die than to have them divorce you."

    I've also heard this from a guy paying £5000 a month maintenance.

  3. Steven Jones


    This rmeinds me of a quote :-

    "It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand."

    So what character in what film (and no, you can't Google it).

  4. ewan 3


    That's a pretty harsh study - presumably they were in effect lying to one half (or at least being economical with the truth)... surprised it got past an ethics panel in the way it's been presented here.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's better to have your spouse die than to have them divorce you.

    I thought that was why God gave is the patio?

  6. Eddie Edwards
    Thumb Down

    For this case, yes

    For this case, it would probably be better to get used to the bag than see it as a temporary annoyance. Probably better to think "I'm a guy with a colostomy bag" than "I shouldn't have this bag but I'm waiting for another operation".

    Presumably this may well apply to amputations or paraplegia too.

    Other cases are not so clear cut. The placebo effect strongly suggests it is better to believe you will get better from a disease than to believe you will die from it. I don't think a study of people who have had a part of them removed would really apply to the much broader class of people who have a disease and a probability of survival vs death.

  7. Kit-Fox

    damned dirty docs, get your paws off me

    Your better off to avoid all doctors and so called medical 'professionals' as they are all a bunch of uneducated and misinformed idiots blundering around in the dark hoping that you dont notice how much of a mess they are making of your body/mind.

    Just stay away and you'll be much healthier

  8. deadlockvictim
    Jobs Halo

    Hope and Happiness

    So Microsoft should be telling people, 'Jaysis, Windows 7 is real pile of poo. If you thought that Vista was bad, you aten't seen nothing yet'. It ties in nicely with the colostomy bag too.

    happy days all.

  9. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    Do not go gentle into that good night...

    ...Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    - Dylan Thomas

  10. Johnny Canuck
    Dead Vulture

    happier with death

    Of course you're happier if your spouse dies than you are if they divorce you. If they die they're not screwing you over in court.

  11. Ian Stephenson

    Has anyone seen Brian?

    Always look on the bright side of life....

  12. Anonymous Coward


    As someone chronically ill I resent this story.

    But then, I am always questioning my doctor, because I do not believe he will tell me the truth if it is bad news.

    I have caught him out being unduly positive several times by researching my condition using Google Scholar.

    Prepare for the worst,, but hope for the best is my motto.

    (Currently out of my tiny skull on meds) Oi! Penguin!! U lookin at me!!!!

  13. Paul_Murphy

    What's wrong with the truth?

    As title ..

    Can't see why lying or 'sugar-coating' things will help in any way - unless the liee (?) is particularly gullible.

    It could also lead to patients popping by every week to see if their colon is ready yet.


  14. Gav

    Cruel trick

    "others were informed that doctors would "reconnect their bowels" at some future date"

    So these people were less happy. However, not half as unhappy, I suspect, as they would become when they discover they'd been told a cruel lie for the purposes of this study.

  15. Marvin the Martian

    "The very worst thing a doctor can do"

    Well, seems they have the means of doing far worse things. Shipman and Mengele spring to mind.

  16. Jolyon

    I predict

    A lot of angry comments from widow(er)s about the following:

    "It's better, they argue, to have your spouse die than to have them divorce you."

    The linked article actually says "these results also may explain why people who lose a spouse to death often recover better emotionally over time than those who get divorced."

    Which is less tasteless.

  17. John Robson Silver badge

    Colostomy bags...

    Are cr*p, but you can carry on with one.

    Attitude, rather than the lack of hope, is the key here. The others could quite easily have got on with their "bagged" lives until such a time as they might have the reconnection.

  18. Bassey

    Re: Kit-Fox

    "doctors and so called medical 'professionals' ... are all a bunch of uneducated and misinformed idiots"

    Part of me REALLY wants to hear you justify that claim. However, a larger part of me anticipates a long, drawn out story of bitterness and resentment and it's only Monday.

  19. Kit-Fox


    What do they expect after withholding treatment and ruining lives and then after all that saying 'its not our fault'

    thats the short story version

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Ian Emery

    And as another chronically ill person I find it completely accurate, at least for me. Eventually, one of my Doctors just told me "Look, assume that you aren't going to get any better than you are now. What does that mean for your life?" I realized that while I /might/ get somewhat better, he was right - I was over the most acute stage of my problems, and I needed to just move on and get what I could out of life. I won't say I have completely stopped hoping for more, but it's not something that I think about very often anymore. Instead, I focus on how to work within the limits I am stuck with. Overall, I've been a lot happier ever since.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Not really on this topic but I've just spent seven years virtually unable to walk beyond shops/work, and even then in plenty of pain. It was only when I realised the docs and specialists were talking out of their arse that I started ignoring them, got a wheelchair, spent months in it and finally started to recover. Two years on I'm still working on it, but much improved thanksforasking.

    A trivial complaint was magnified into something crippling by their misadvice and if I'd stayed listening to them I doubt I'd ever have recovered.

    I'd even considered amputation and talked it over with the docs because it was better than the state I was in (they weren't supportive of that, perhaps the one good decision they made) [*]

    So as highly as I think of the NHS and despise the US system as institutionalised muggery, I don't really trust docs now. I'd also add that with one exception, the more specialised they were the less use they were.

    Now I've got to sort out my messed up mind. I don't feel connected with anything any more (this is dangerous) and I have a habit of blowing up suddenly in people's faces.

    So there's my justification. I think the bitterness is deserved.

    [*] This does link with the story. I reached the state that I'd rather take the hit and have some kind of resolution than have hope dangled in my face, always just beyond reach.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Stupid furry... I mean Kit-Fox..

    Avoid doctors eh? Spoken by one with the privilege of not being chronically ill. How lovely for you. However there are those of us who would die fairly rapidly if we gave up on medical care.

    re: Google scholar bloke - docs can only know so much. They're not a superhuman hive-mind. My neurological condition is so rare that when I was diagnosed 7 years ago my consultant said "Do you have access to the internet at home?". I told him I did, he said "You're best off googling for info because we know very little and there's no real research going on. I didn't want you to read it somewhere public like a library, you need to be somewhere private because you will be upset. I'm so sorry." Now he wouldn't have to resort to that. Some of you don't know when you're well off.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Probably right.

    This seems right in theory. I have a chronic back condition that won't get any better. At first I thought it was the usual kind of back problems that can get better in time, and it pissed me off that things never improved.

    After a proper diagnosis of the issue, I now know things can't get better, and I'm coping much better with the pain and limitations it imposes. So far, at least.

    OTOH, how can they be sure that the "Give 'em false hope" group weren't unhappy because they KNEW they'd been lied to. I mean, let's face it, you'd have to be pretty dumb to have your colon removed and then still believe that somehow, at some unspecified point, the docs will magically connect things back up again...

  24. Hollerith 1

    To quote from 'the Long Kiss Goodnight'

    "Life is pain -- get used to it."

    As someone told that I have a lifelong disease that will only get worse, and can't be cured, I would rather deal with reality, make rational choices and yes, get on with my new life. The agony of thinking I could/might/will get better would have been far worse.

    People can accommodate themselves to a lot and can find the courage and acceptance to live well within what others would see as appalling limits. Others less fortunate than myself have done so, and I feel it best to live up to their example.

  25. Kit-Fox

    @ AC 14:48

    Actually I am chronically ill with little hope of recovery and ever getting anything like a 'normal' life, it'd be nice to walk to shops without a walking stick, it'd be nice not to have to be so drugged up that i cant work.

    It'd be nice not to have arthritis rampaging through my spine and it'd be nice not to have one of my hips slowly destroying itself.

    It'd be nice if all this could have waited till i was in my 50s at least rather than in my mid 20s, lots of things would be nice in fact, how about you not making such a stupid assumption

    It'd also be nice for the docs that cocked up to admit it, and pull thier fingers out rather than withholding treatment. it'd be nice if they'd done something when i was younger to prevent all this (which was possible)

    So next time, crawl back into what ever lil bottle you crawled out of before you decide that just cause you have it hard, none of the rest of us do.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Widower marries divorcee'

    I must admit my circumstance validates somewhat the death vs. divorce observation.

    My first wife passed away about 10 years ago.

    My current wife divorced her husband about 20 years ago.

    We married about 6 years ago.

    I occasionally recall my first wife, with fondness.

    My current wife, who has to deal with "the dickhead" on a semi-regular basis (due to a shared offspring), is unable to move completely beyond the divorce... as it will never, ever be final.

  27. kevin biswas

    A turning point in my life

    Was when I was telling my friend abut how, if only my pain and suffering would go away I could make something of my life. He asked me what if it doesn't go away ? probably wont. I raged against this for a while but in the end I realized he was right. It never went, but i chose to get on with my life.

  28. Nightkiller
    Big Brother

    Nevermind the Doctors

    This is just a symptom (no pun intended) of how political correctness, instead of making things nice and smooth, actually make the problem worse in the long run by raising peoples' expectations or hiding the real truth.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I laughed

    so I hope the relationship doesn't work the other way round.

    The quote is John Cleese as the headmaster in Clockwise

  30. Anonymous Coward


    Drugs make you happy and that's a fact no one can take away from me.. ooohh druggs.. droool.. Fuck hope or despair when you can take a fist full of legally prescribed opioid pain killers. Happiness is a little round pill with OC 20 embossed on the top and I won't listen to anyone that tells me different. Even the artificial kind is good.. give someone enough Vicodin or Tramadol and telling them they have cancer and 3 months to live won't wipe the smile from their faces.

  31. James O'Brien

    So the doctors were right. . .

    A bad bedisde manner was the right way all along.

    Ive got bad news, your gonna die. But I just saved a bunch of money on car insurance by switching to GEICO.

  32. wv9e

    More good news

    Perfect. Now when the Government Health Care fiasco comes to be law, we'll all be happier when they say you can't have this or that operation so plan to die like the socialists in other countries do.

    Why worry... be happy.

  33. bex

    I agree

    At the end of life many people go go to extraordinary lengths to carry on with very poor health and horrendous side effects from drugs and treatment for a few months extra life. Better to get your life in order accept your fate and go out with dignity. You are born. you live (hopefully well and fully, then you die.

  34. Muscleguy

    Works on on things too

    As a middle aged man who runs I could spend my time bemoaning how I can't run as fast as I could when I was 18 and I get all these new niggles (I have pulled muscles most of you haven't heard of) and they take longer to heal and some of them don't fully. OR I could realise that there are still challenges in denying the ageing process as long as I can and seeing how fast I can still run along with being happy that my groin is only stiff now and it's generally gone by the time I'm at the end of the road.

    The main thing is I can still run. The training still works, it just takes longer because I can't handle the workload like I used to. See you all on the road.

  35. d 25

    Dare to do four more things

    Fellow Sufferers,

    -try this: cut out Dairy & take magnesium chloride along with ascorbic acid,

    as well, extra virgin coconut oil taken internally&applied externally

    -as a ret.mechanic,motorbike&car racer, i've been thru it all& just these four things have cut pain tremendously

    -my motto is 'what have i got to lose?'

    by trying these unsanctioned remedies wch the allopathic a*seholes ,aka,M[edicalD[eitie]s

    decry as quackery but in truth are scientifically verifiable, they just aren't Patentable [$$]

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Bad methods.

    Of course, in sensible countries, our doctors tell us what is likely to result from colon removal, which depends on the tumour location. In my case, he was about 90% sure it would be re-connectable, and said so. Lucky me, it was.

    Thank goodness he was part of the NHS, which exists to make us well again, and not some Yank who plays stupid games with his customers to be able to write papers with nonsensical methodology.

  37. The Vociferous Time Waster


    Let's not forget the placebo effect. If your doctor tells you you are going to get better because of treatment X, you may just get better because you believe that to be the case. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that people who think their treatment is going to work respond better than those who believe their treatment isn't going to work.

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