Contending With Preplanned Death: Questions for Clinicians

J Psychiatr Pract. 2017 Sep;23(5):366-374. doi: 10.1097/PRA.0000000000000260.


Background and objectives: The goal of this column is to assist readers in reflecting on their attitudes and responses toward clinical and nonclinical situations involving preplanned deaths by decisionally capable individuals. Such circumstances range from encountering individuals in one's personal and professional lives who desire and intend to end their lives under their own terms, to having such individuals request assistance with predeath and postdeath arrangements.

Methods: Attending to pertinent literature, this essay uses Socratic inquiry to question conventional assumptions and attitudes, push readers' thoughts beyond typical comfort zones, and consider alternative modes of responding to challenges posed by preplanned death.

Results: Studies indicate that, for their own end-of-life circumstances, physicians would prefer a briefer, higher quality life to prolonged low-quality life, dignity in infirmity and death, and avoidance of terminal suffering. Lay people generally endorse similar preferences. Although contemporary society generally shuns contemplating preplanned death, cultural attitudes regarding preplanned death are rapidly evolving, and variations of "Death with Dignity" legislation have gained traction in increasing numbers of US states as well as internationally. As yet, no broad consensus exists as to how clinicians should manage circumstances involving preplanned death.

Conclusions: Considerations regarding preplanned deaths merit greater professional and public discussion. Many options exist for improving how professionals address the quality of human experiences surrounding death.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death*
  • Culture
  • Euthanasia
  • Humans
  • Physicians / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Right to Die*
  • Suicide, Assisted*