This section is from the book "The Hygienic System: Fasting And Sun Bathing", by Herbert M. Shelton. Also available from Amazon: The Hygienic System Vol III Fasting and Sun Bathing.
Opponents never tire of telling us of the "large number of deaths" that have occurred "as a result of fasting." They read the story of the death of a faster in some sensational newspaper and, without knowing anything of the circumstances of the death, repeat the story over and over. If we were to publish the story of every death of patients while being treated with poisons by the physicians, they would rise up in their organized might and denounce us for insinuating that they are a group of murderers.
It is the general custom for the Press to herald far and wide every death during a fast, and attribute the death to starvation. The many thousands who fast and live, who fast and recover health, are not mentioned. Horrified relatives and enterprising newspaper writers are sure to see that the world receives full information about any case of death during a fast.
Cases of death are often attributed to "starvation," where death was due to other causes. We quite naturally expect that where thousands of cases are concerned, there will be an occasional death, whether patients fast or feast. But we may be certain that if we had some means of recording the experiences of a thousand individuals for a period of twenty years or more, while fasting and while eating, more deaths would occur among those taking three meals a day than among those who fast while sick.
A few years ago Theodore Neuffer of Goldsboro, Pa., was reported to have died after only 18 days without food. As a newborn baby can go longer than that without food, it is possible that Neuffer died of causes other than starvation. He was 84 years old and it was said that because of his age he couldn't stand the strain. As numerous people of this age and older have "stood the strain" of much longer fasts with benefit, it is still probable that his death was not due to starvation.
Dewey established the fact that it is physiologically impossible to starve to death before the skeleton condition is reached (by this is meant the mere weight of the skeleton and viscera). This fact has not been fully understood by many of the advocates of fasting, still less by its opponents. Opponents of fasting point to cases of death occurring long before the skeleton condition is reached, while there is still considerable flesh, even fat, on the body, sometimes, indeed, within a few days after starting the fast, and declare that these instances disprove Dewey's contention. Physiologists, on the other hand, estimate that "strong adults die when they lose two-fifths of the body weight."
It must first be noted that instances of such deaths in fasting are extremely rare. Instances of prolonged fasting by people of all ages and in all possible physical conditions, are very common. Such deaths are, as will be seen, exceptions rather than the rule, and are to be accounted for in some other way than on the asumption that they resulted from starvation. For example, there is the testimony of Miss Marie Davenport Vickers (The Mazdaznan Feb., 1906, p. 28) who fasted forty-two days to good health from April 19, to June 1, 1904. She tells us that on two former occasions, before she knew anything of fasting, other than having seen it mentioned in the Bible, she was forced to go without food for some days, owing to the lack of funds with which to purchase it. She says: "and I did almost starve to death." I was once called to see a woman on the fourteenth day of the fast she had undertaken at home. She was a large, fat woman, with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, etc. I did not like the general aspect of the case and advised that she break her fast. She refused and in another day began to vomit. Three days later, she fainted while coming from the bath room. This frightened her. She never overcame her fright. Perhaps she would have done so, had a meddlesome and "know-it-all" daughter not kept up her fear engendering suggestions day and night. I have always been convinced that the chief cause of death in this case was fear. It certainly was not starvation, for at death she weighed nearly two hundred pounds. In Herter's Lectures On Chemical Pathology he tells us that death from inanition is not a possibility till the body has lost at least a third of its normal weight.
Sick people are dying all the time. People seldom turn to fasting until they are desperate. It is inevitable that among such a desperately ill class of people a few deaths will occur. A physician who discovered a new "cure" for illness and was permitted to use it only upon cases that had been given up by all other doctors, would be looked upon as a great physician if he effected only an occasional cure. It is an indisputable fact that of the thousands who go upon a fast to enable them to recover from their ills, most of them have suffered for years and have given "regular" and "irregular" physicians unlimited opportunity to effect their recovery.
In thousands of fasts ranging from a few days to sixty and even ninety days, no deaths have occurred that could be attributed to the fast. In every case, where an autopsy has been made, this has revealed an organic "disease" which would have resulted in death, with or without food. Dr. Dewey properly maintained, that if one's vitality is so nearly exhausted, or if a vital organ is so badly damaged, that death is near at hand, the result is absolutely certain, eating or fasting. Most people turn to fasting as a last resort, instead of the first resort. They turn to it after their bodies have been wrecked and ruined by years of wrong living, drugging and surgical operations. Under such circumstances we naturally expect that an occasional patient will die even while fasting. Honesty and fairness will not attribute death, under these conditions, to the fast.
We should bear in mind that of the thousands of patients treated in the regular way and regularly fed "plenty of good nourishing food," a large percentage die. How absurd, then, to blame fasting for the exceedingly small number of cases that have died while fasting when, too late, they turned to this method of healing.
Dr. S. Lief, of England, says in the June 1929 issue of Health For All: "During eighteen years' experience in the treatment of thousands of cases, we have not known a single case where death took place as a result of fasting."
Dewey not only emphasized the fact that it is physiologically impossible to starve to death before the skeleton condition is reached, but he also emphasized the fact that nature will always demand food long before this stage is reached, providing it is a remediable case. That people have died before the skeleton stage is reached is true, but in such instances death has been due to causes other than starvation. Too many people turn to fasting as a last resort; whereas, it should be the first resort. If, standing with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, they attempt a fast as a last desperate attempt to save life, and they die while fasting, the fast should not be blamed for the death. Fasting is a natural, vital process, and no such process is injurious unless it is wrongly used or over-used.