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Invited Commentary
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June 27, 2011

Optimism Amid Serious Disease: Clinical Panacea or Ethical Conundrum?Comment on “Recovery Expectations and Long-term Prognosis of Patients With Coronary Heart Disease”

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Family Medicine Research and Centers for Ethics, Medical Humanities and Palliative Care (Dr Gramling), and Department of Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Oncology, and Nursing, and Center for Communication and Disparities Research (Dr Epstein), University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.

Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(10):935-936. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.40

It seems that to be American—or maybe merely to be a human being living in modern times—requires us to maintain optimism in the face of less-than-optimistic evidence. In essence, we ask of ourselves to “beat the odds,” or at least to deeply hope that we do. Consider 2 American icons—Captain Kirk and Commander Spock from Star Trek. Is it the hyperrational, unemotional Spock whom we emulate? “Captain, the statistical likelihood that our plan will succeed is less than 4.3 percent.” Or are we drawn to the ever-optimistic (and usually correct) Captain Kirk? “Spock, it will work.” Well, when it comes to our hearts, we generally aspire to Captain Kirk.

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