A Charlotte, N.C., man was charged with first-degree murder of a 79-year-old woman whom police said he scared to death. In an attempt to elude cops after a botched bank robbery, the Associated Press reports that 20-year-old Larry Whitfield broke into and hid out in the home of Mary Parnell. Police say he didn't touch Parnell but that she died after suffering a heart attack that was triggered by terror. Can the fugitive be held responsible for the woman's death? Prosecutors said that he can under the state's so-called felony murder rule, which allows someone to be charged with murder if he or she causes another person's death while committing or fleeing from a felony crime such as robbery—even if it's unintentional.
But, medically speaking, can someone actually be frightened to death? We asked Martin A. Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
但是，从医学上来讲，一个人真的会被吓死吗？我们咨询了布莱汉姆神经科主任Martin A. Samuels和波士顿的妇女医院。
Is it possible to literally be scared to death?
Absolutely, no question about it.
Really? How does that happen?
The body has a natural protective mechanism called the fight-or-flight response, which was originally described by Walter Cannon [chairman of Harvard University's physiology department from 1906 to 1942]. If, in the wild, an animal is faced with a life-threatening situation, the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system responds by increasing heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, dilating the pupils, and slowing digestion, among other things. All of this increases the chances of succeeding in a fight or running away from, say, an aggressive jaguar. This process certainly would be of help to primitive humans, but the problem, of course, is that in the modern world there is very limited advantage of the fight-or-flight response. There is a downside to revving up your nervous system like this.
How can the fight-or-flight response lead to death?
The autonomic nervous system uses the hormone adrenaline, a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, to send signals to various parts of the body to activate the fight-or-flight response. This chemical is toxic in large amounts; it damages the visceral (internal) organs such as the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. It is believed that almost all sudden deaths are caused by damage to the heart. There is almost no other organ that would fail so fast as to cause sudden death. Kidney failure, liver failure, those things don't kill you suddenly.