Hex death is one that follows a ritualized pronouncement of death by a powerful authority, a phenomenon not widely accepted by the Western medical community, despite scattered accounts witnessed by reputable observers. Case histories of two patients are presented. The first patient, a poorly educated man near death after a hex pronounced by a local voodoo priest, rapidly recovered after ingenious words and actions by his family physician. The second, who had a diagnosis of metastatic carcinoma of the esophagus, died believing he was dying of widespread cancer, as did his family and his physicians. At autopsy, only a 2 cm nodule of cancer in his liver was found. The cases raise several intriguing questions. Is death from hexing limited to ignorant and superstitious tribes, or is it part of some general phenomenon basic to many forms of human communication? Is hex death only a form of human persuasion? If we can cause death by what we say or do, then what lesser behavior do we induce in our patients? Can diagnostic labels of serious or life-threatening diseases, whether correct or not, be part of this general phenomenon?
(C) 1992 Southern Medical Association