BOSTON—Pinpointing the phenomenon as the single greatest predictor of human mortality, a paper published Wednesday in The New England Journal Of Medicine has found that people with deceased family members run an extremely high risk of dying themselves.
The groundbreaking study, which tracked the health and well-being of 85,000 subjects over a period of 40 years, discovered that people who have one or more relatives who have passed away are very likely, one day, to die as well.
“It appears that individuals with a family history of death have a strong genetic predisposition toward dying,” said the paper’s lead author, Dr. Samantha Booth, who explained that the finding held true regardless of a subject’s race, nationality, gender, or socioeconomic status. “Based on anecdotal evidence, we’ve long suspected an inherited trait could play a major role in determining whether a person dies, but we were surprised to see just how strong the correlation truly is.”
“Unfortunately, for members of this cohort, death appears to be all but inevitable,” she continued.
According to the study’s authors, the likelihood of future mortality remains high regardless of whether one’s immediate family members have died, or whether only more distant relations have passed on. Based on their findings, researchers hypothesize that death is handed down through individual lineages, becoming a devastating family curse that is passed from parent to child and which tends not to skip a generation.
In addition, a separate study of some 8,000 individuals who died in the Hartford, CT area found that every one of the deceased had ancestors who had died before them, further suggesting a family link.
While people from afflicted lineages can reportedly prolong their lives by developing healthy habits such as a nutritious diet and regular exercise, researchers stated that, in the end, no matter how many precautions they take, their genetic susceptibility to dying will win out.
“We recommend alerting your doctor if there’s a history of death in your family, and if you aren’t certain, you should ask your parents if they know of any fatalities among your relatives,” Booth said. “This is also important information to know before deciding to have children yourself. Even if your own family is alive and well, it’s possible there is death somewhere in your partner’s ancestry.”
“If you have a grandparent or even a great-grandparent who has died, then sadly, the odds of your kids eventually dying are quite high,” she added.
When reached for comment, several of the study’s participants acknowledged they had at least one deceased family member, and expressed their fear and concern to reporters.
“I feel perfectly healthy now, but knowing that my father died definitely makes me worry that the same thing could happen to me one day,” said Randy Lewis, a 49-year-old who took part in the study. “But my mom is still alive, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I take after her side of the family.”
Added Lewis, “Unfortunately, I can only wait and see.”