Death still without cure after vitamin D shock trial results

For years, a lot of people have believed that taking Vitamin D supplements would improve their health. Elaborate studies now show that almost everyone has all the vitamin D they need in any case. Supplements make no difference.

As a society we’re very good at latching on to signs of hope that death may be delayed, if only we do the right things. It’s not unreasonable. Medical science has achieved some truly wonderful things: scarlet fever is no longer fatal, malaria has been eradicated from many places. This remarkable history of progress, however, inclines us to be slightly too trusting. The pharmaceutical industry is only too happy to play up to the fantasy that death can be cured.

And we like to believe them. We trust in wilder remedies not because we’re stupid, but because we’re very scared. Debunking of ‘fake science’ casts itself as plain devotion to logic and evidence. But it has an edge of cruelty. It refuses to acknowledge the longing and the fear which led to the delusions it vigorously dismantles. It turns out to be naive to trust in Vitamin D supplements; but it is not naive to be terrified of death.

We turn to over-hopeful remedies because we so much wish that the problem could be solved. It is hard to detach ourselves from earlier experiences of comfort, especially in childhood, where problems really were solved relatively simply. One small pill, a cuddle, and one felt better in minutes. It really did work – then.

Confronting our mortality is extraordinarily difficult. We need courage and companionship. It is the absence of these – rather than a lack of interest in medical science – that explains why we put too much faith in each new hopeful offering from vitamin companies (as well as quack doctors).

Ansel Adams, Aspens – Consolation, not a cure

This photograph, by the American photographer Ansel Adams, does not offer to make us live longer, it doesn’t target any physical ailment. It just asks us to look at some trees which have lost their leaves. It’s not just about trees, of course. It’s about the approach of autumn and, sympolically, of death. It gets us to hold an agonising thought with dignity and beauty. It does not do this in order to torment or shock us. It works with the idea that we can become – even if only a little – less panicked and less desperate in the face of our own mortality if we encounter the truth head on, in a sober, dignified way.