Prevalence and factors associated with desire for death in patients with advanced disease: results from a Portuguese cross-sectional study

Psychosomatics. 2013 Sep-Oct;54(5):451-7. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2013.01.006. Epub 2013 Mar 7.


Background: Desire for death (DFD) within the context of palliative care has become a prominent medical issue and remains the subject of much controversy.

Methods: Cross-sectional study designed to assess the prevalence and associated demographic, physical, psychiatric, and psychosocial factors for DFD in patients with advanced disease.

Results: Seventy-five terminally ill patients were included in the analyses in a 28-month period. The prevalence of DFD was 20% (95% CI [11.7-30.8]). No statistical differences were observed between patients with and without DFD with respect to sex, age, race, education, religion, type of family, medical diagnosis, and medication. There were associations between DFD and being married/cohabitating (OR = 4.0; 95% CI [1.21-13.29]) and being socially isolated (OR = 0.3; 95% CI [0.06-0.98]). Significant positive correlations were found between moderate to severe Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) scores and DFD for tiredness (OR = 10.1; 95% CI [1.57 ± inf]) and drowsiness (OR = 6.0; 95% CI [1.77-20.37]). DFD was also correlated with depression (DSM-IV criteria: OR = 5.5; 95% CI [1.56-19.47]; Hospital and Anxiety Depression Scale (HADS) depression subscale ≥11: OR = 8.6; 95% CI [1.33 ± inf]). In exact multivariate regression analyses predicting DFD, three independent factors emerged: marital status (OR = 5.3; 95% CI [1.16-29.89]); HADS depression sub-scale score ≥11 (OR = 8.3; 95% CI [1.11 ± inf]); drowsiness (OR = 5.8; 95% CI [1.29-32.85]).

Discussion: Prevalence of DFD was high in this sample of patients. Identifying factors associated with DFD could help provide medical and social interventions capable of diminishing suffering in terminal ill patients.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Stages
  • Social Isolation / psychology
  • Suicide, Assisted / psychology*
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*