A common phenomenon is that when one half of a couple that has been together for a long time dies, the other also dies shortly afterwards.

The usual, romantic, explanation is that they loved each other so much that they could not live without each other.

He or she died from a 'broken heart', 'could not live alone', 'was dependent on their spouse'.

Is there a correlation between the death of one spouse and the consequent death of the other shortly after?

The hypothesis is that the desire to live may have a certain effect on the immune system. The brain that is in control of our body may have a shut-down mechanism, which is activated in certain cases. Those cases are similar to fatal accidents or certain illnesses, where the brain knows that it will not be able to cope. This mechanism may control 'suicide cells'.

In recent years, suicide cells or what scientists define as programmed cell death (PCD) has formed the basis for ongoing biogenetic research. PCD is the death of a cell which is mediated by an intracellular program.

There are three major types of PCDs. Type I cell death is called apoptosis. Type II is autophagic and Type III is necrotic cell-death.

Cells can be killed by illegal agents or be instructed to commit suicide. If there is a threat to the integrity of an organism by certain cells, PCD is needed to destroy those cells.

Typical examples of such cases are: cells that are infected by viruses, DNA damage, cells of the immune system and cancer cells.

In certain types of cancer cells apoptosis is triggered by radiation or chemicals used for therapy.

What makes a cell decide to commit suicide?

The author believes that it is the imbalance between positive and negative signals sent by the brain.

If there is a lack of the positive signals (no desire to live) needed for survival and / or negative signals are sent meaning 'no desire to continue to live', the shut-down mechanism may be activated.

There have been numerous reports of cases where patients recovered miraculously after clearly being diagnosed with cancer. This phenomenon may be explained by the activation of the PCD mechanism by 'desire to live' positive signals.

In some cases, viruses that are associated with cancers may use tricks, like producing a protein that inactivates the apoptosis signal. In such cases the cancer cells will not only continue to live and proliferate, but they will become more resistant to apoptosis. Further understanding of those tricks and decoy molecules generated to protect cancer cells would enable researchers to reactivate and overcome those protective tricks in order to destroy dangerous cancer cells.

The author also believes that future research on destroying and removing cancer cells may be implemented in two phases. The first phase would be to distinguish, mark and identify cancerous cells. In phase two the target would be to activate suicide cells in the selected area or group of cells and bypass the existing protection of the cancer cells.

Strong psychological and family support is essential for such a recovery. In addition, the patient must believe in and hope for a healthy and bright future.