The pursuit of physician-assisted suicide: role of psychiatric factors

J Palliat Med. 2003 Dec;6(6):873-83. doi: 10.1089/109662103322654758.


Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) has attracted considerable professional attention in recent years in the end-of-life care debate. The role of depression and other psychiatric illnesses on the patient's pursuit of PAS is unclear. As part of a qualitative study exploring the motivations, deliberations, and complications experienced by persons with incurable diseases who were actively seeking PAS, we conducted semistructured interviews that were reviewed for psychiatric content. In total, 159 interviews were conducted with 60 participants concerning 12 prospective cases (12 patients and 20 family members) and 23 retrospective cases (28 family members), with more than 3600 pages of transcripts. Depressive symptoms, when present, were not described by the subjects and/or their family members to be an influential factor in their pursuit of PAS; no subject appeared or was described to suffer from depression-related decisional incapacity. Findings from this study, albeit from a small and self-selected sample, highlight not only the importance of avoiding a reductionistic understanding of the role of psychiatric illnesses in contributing to serious pursuit of PAS, but also the pressing need for scientifically rigorous studies of PAS in samples representative of the larger population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Suicide, Assisted / psychology*
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*