In On the Accuracy of Economic Observations (1963, 2e, p. 23), Oskar Morgenstern claims that

for generations it was considered improper to die of cancer, hence little mention of this disease.

I found this claim novel and surprising. Was this ever true? If so, when and where?

This line is in the context of several pages where he was rattling off some examples of bad statistics from fields other than economics.

(He doesn't cite any source. Nor does he state the specific time range or location when/where this impropriety allegedly occurred.)

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    Terry Pratchett's "Shaking Hands with Death" Dimbleby Lecture made a great deal out of Richard Dimbleby's family announcing that he had died of cancer, stating that when it happened back in the 1960s it was typically disguised and never referred to by name. He went on to say that by naming the disease, it improved public awareness and helped start the concerted effort to beat it. Here's the lecture. youtu.be/90b1MBwnEHM The anecdote starts at 03:57. Mar 5, 2017 at 9:34
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    Sometimes "a long illness" is used as a euphemism for cancer. Mar 5, 2017 at 10:22
  • Not sure if "improper" is the right word, as it gives the impression that dying of cancer was considered bad manners or something. However there definitely was a stigma associated with cancer and people tended to avoid discussing it. This may have been a holdover from the days when disease was considered to be divine punishment.
    – GordonM
    Mar 6, 2017 at 10:59
  • I don't have any sources good enough to give a proper answer but my parents talk about how their grandparents generation never directly talked about cancer. It makes a sort of sense, when people had no idea about the causes it got treated similarly to some serious genetic disorders and wouldn't be talked about because it would make it harder for younger members of the family to marry well.
    – Murphy
    Mar 6, 2017 at 13:38
  • Why would people generally announce what a person died of? Would cancer have been any different than say heart attack or falling off the roof?
    – jamesqf
    Mar 6, 2017 at 19:10


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