Verbalized desire for death or euthanasia in advanced cancer patients receiving palliative care

Palliat Support Care. 2015 Apr;13(2):295-303. doi: 10.1017/S1478951514000121. Epub 2014 Apr 24.


Objective: We aimed to address the prevalence of desire-to-die statements (DDSs) among terminally ill cancer patients in an acute palliative care unit. We also intended to compare the underlying differences between those patients who make desire-to-die comments (DDCs) and those who make desire-for-euthanasia comments (EUCs).

Method: We conducted a one-year cross-sectional prospective study in all patients receiving palliative care who had made a DDC or EUC. At inclusion, we evaluated symptom intensity, anxiety and depression, and conducted a semistructured interview regarding the reasons for these comments.

Results: Of the 701 patients attended to during the study period, 69 (9.8%; IC 95% 7.7-12.3) made a DDS: 51 (7.3%) a DDC, and 18 (2.5%) an EUC. Using Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) DDC group showed higher percentage of moderate-severe symptoms (ESAS > 4) for well-being (91 vs. 25%; p = 0.001), depression (67 vs. 25%; p = 0.055), and anxiety (52 vs. 13%; p = 0.060) than EUC group. EUC patients also considered themselves less spiritual (44 vs. 84%; p = 0.034). The single most common reason for a DDS was pain or physical suffering, though most of the reasons given were nonphysical.

Significance of results: Almost 10% of the population receiving specific oncological palliative care made a DDC (7.3%) or EUC (2.5%). The worst well-being score was lower in the EUC group. The reasons for both a DDC and EUC were mainly nonphysical. We find that emotional and spiritual issues should be identified and effectively addressed when responding to a DDS in terminally ill cancer patients.

Keywords: Palliative care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Euthanasia / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*