Predictors of pursuit of physician-assisted death

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2015 Mar;49(3):555-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2014.06.010. Epub 2014 Aug 10.


Context: Physician-assisted death (PAD) was legalized in 1997 by Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. The States of Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico have since provided legal sanction for PAD. Through 2013, 1173 Oregonians have received a prescription under the Death with Dignity Act and 752 have died after taking the prescribed medication in Oregon.

Objectives: To determine the predictive value of personal and interpersonal variables in the pursuit of PAD.

Methods: Fifty-five Oregonians who either requested PAD or contacted a PAD advocacy organization were compared with 39 individuals with advanced disease who did not pursue PAD. We compared the two groups on responses to standardized measures of depression, hopelessness, spirituality, social support, and pain. We also compared the two groups on style of attachment to intimate others and caregivers as understood through attachment theory.

Results: We found that PAD requesters had higher levels of depression, hopelessness, and dismissive attachment (attachment to others characterized by independence and self-reliance), and lower levels of spirituality. There were moderate correlations among the variables of spirituality, hopelessness, depression, social support, and dismissive attachment. There was a strong correlation between depression and hopelessness. Low spirituality emerged as the strongest predictor of pursuit of PAD in the regression analysis.

Conclusion: Although some factors motivating pursuit of PAD, such as depression, may be ameliorated by medical interventions, other factors, such as style of attachment and sense of spirituality, are long-standing aspects of the individual that should be supported at the end of life. Practitioners must develop respectful awareness and understanding of the interpersonal and spiritual perspectives of their patients to provide such support.

Keywords: Physician-assisted death; attachment; depression; end-of-life care; euthanasia; hopelessness; pain; spirituality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude to Death
  • Caregivers
  • Depression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Oregon
  • Pain
  • Social Support
  • Spirituality
  • Suicide, Assisted / psychology*