The desire for hastened death in patients with metastatic cancer

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2007 Jun;33(6):661-75. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2006.09.034.


A substantial minority of patients in palliative care settings report a high desire for hastened death (DHD), in association with physical and emotional distress, low social support, and impaired spiritual well being. To clarify to what extent DHD emerges in association with suffering prior to the end of life, we determined its prevalence and correlates in ambulatory patients with metastatic cancer, the majority of whom had an expected survival of >6 months. We hypothesized that DHD in this sample would be directly linked to physical and psychological distress, and inversely related to perceived social support, self-esteem, and spiritual well being. Three hundred twenty-six outpatients completed the Schedule of Attitudes Toward Hastened Death (SAHD), Brief Pain Inventory, Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale, Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II), Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS), Medical Outcomes Study Social Support Survey, FACIT-Spiritual Well-Being Scale, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and Karnofsky Performance Status. Over 50% of participants reported pain, >20% reported elevated levels of depression (BDI-II> or =15) and hopelessness (BHS> or =8), but <2% had a high DHD (SAHD> or =10). DHD was correlated positively with hopelessness, depression, and physical distress, and negatively with physical functioning, spiritual well being, social support, and self-esteem; it was not associated with treatment status or proximity to death. Over 34% of the variance in predicting SAHD scores was accounted for by hopelessness, depression, and functional status. The relative absence of a strong DHD in this sample suggests that the will to live tends to be preserved in cancer patients prior to the end of life, in spite of significant emotional and physical suffering.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged