Attitudes of terminally ill patients toward euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide

Arch Intern Med. 2000 Sep 11;160(16):2454-60. doi: 10.1001/archinte.160.16.2454.


Background: In jurisdictions that permit euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, patients with cancer comprise the largest group to die by these methods. We investigated the personal attitudes toward these practices of patients receiving palliative care for advanced cancer.

Methods: Seventy patients (32 men and 38 women; median survival, 44.5 days) took part in a survey using in-depth semistructured interviews. The interviews were audiotaped for transcription and content analysis of themes.

Results: Most participants (73%) believed that euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide should be legalized, citing pain and the individual's right to choose as their major reasons. Participants who were opposed to legalization cited religious and moral objections as their central concerns. Forty (58%) of the 69 participants who completed the entire interview also believed that, if legal, they might personally make a future request for a hastened death, particularly if pain or physical symptoms became intolerable. Eight of these individuals (12%) would have made such a request at the time of the interview. These 8 participants differed from all others on ratings of loss of interest or pleasure in activities, hopelessness, and the desire to die (Ps<.02). They also had a higher prevalence of depressive disorders (P<.05). However, they did not differ on ratings of pain severity.

Conclusions: Many patients with advanced cancer favor policies that would allow them access to both euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide if pain and physical symptoms became intolerable. For patients who would actually make requests for a physician-hastened death, however, psychological considerations may be at least as salient as physical symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Euthanasia*
  • Euthanasia, Active, Voluntary*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Palliative Care
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Suicide, Assisted*
  • Terminally Ill*