Factors associated with the wish to hasten death: a study of patients with terminal illness

Psychol Med. 2003 Jan;33(1):75-81. doi: 10.1017/s0033291702006827.


Background: There is considerable debate regarding the clinical issues surrounding the wish to hasten death (WTHD) in the terminally ill. The clinical factors contributing to the WTHD need further investigation among the terminally ill in order to enhance understanding of the clinical assessment and treatment needs that underlie this problem. A more detailed understanding may assist with the development of appropriate therapeutic interventions.

Method: A sample of terminally ill cancer patients (N = 256) recruited from an in-patient hospice unit, home palliative care service and a general hospital palliative care consulting service from Brisbane Australia between 1998-2001 completed a questionnaire assessing psychological (depression and anxiety), social (family relationship, social support, level of burden on others) and the impact of physical symptoms. The association between these factors and the WTHD was investigated.

Results: A high WTHD was reported by 14 % of patients. A discriminant function analysis revealed that the following variables were associated with a high WTHD (P < 0.001): higher levels of depressive symptoms, being admitted to an in-patient hospice setting, a greater perception of being a burden on others, lower family cohesion, lower levels of social support, higher levels of anxiety and greater impact of physical symptoms.

Conclusions: Psychological and social factors are related to a WTHD among terminally ill cancer patients. Greater attention needs to be paid to the assessment of psychological and social issues in order to provide appropriate therapeutic interventions for terminally ill patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Palliative Care
  • Sampling Studies
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*