Depression (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Assessment, Evaluation, and Management of Suicidal Patients
Table 7. Suggested Questions for the Assessment of Suicidal Symptoms in People With Cancera continued...
Answers to the questions of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide belong to the realm of the law, ethics, medicine, and philosophy. Physicians and other health care professionals have essential clinical roles to play in addressing and untangling these issues when working with depressed, terminally ill patients.[1,8,9,10,11,12,13] Additionally, religious and cultural issues may strongly influence this decision-making process. A 1994 survey suggests that hospice physicians favor vigorous pain control and strongly approve of the right of patients to refuse life support even if life is secondarily shortened. However, these physicians strongly oppose euthanasia or assisted suicide, clearly making a sharp distinction between these two interventions. Often patients who specifically request physician-assisted suicide can be prescribed measures that augment their comfort, relieve symptoms, and obviate considering drastic measures. A recent study suggests that agreement with euthanasia is associated with male sex, lack of religious beliefs, and general beliefs about the suffering of cancer patients. A 1995 study of persons with advanced cancer who expressed a consistent and strong desire for hastened deaths suggested that this desire is related to the presence of depression. Patients with the desire to die should be carefully assessed and treated for depression as necessary. Whether their desire to die would persist or decrease with improvement in mood disorder has not yet been studied. It is important to maintain a shared decision-making process from the beginning of the professional relationship. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Last Days of Life for more information.)
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- Masdeu JC: Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. JAMA 276 (3): 196-7, 1996.
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- Marzuk PM: Suicide and terminal illness. Death Stud 18 (5): 497-512, 1994.
- Suarez-Almazor ME, Belzile M, Bruera E: Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: a comparative survey of physicians, terminally ill cancer patients, and the general population. J Clin Oncol 15 (2): 418-27, 1997.
- Howard OM, Fairclough DL, Daniels ER, et al.: Physician desire for euthanasia and assisted suicide: would physicians practice what they preach? J Clin Oncol 15 (2): 428-32, 1997.
- Suarez-Almazor ME, Newman C, Hanson J, et al.: Attitudes of terminally ill cancer patients about euthanasia and assisted suicide: predominance of psychosocial determinants and beliefs over symptom distress and subsequent survival. J Clin Oncol 20 (8): 2134-41, 2002.
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- Chandler SW, Trissel LA, Weinstein SM: Combined administration of opioids with selected drugs to manage pain and other cancer symptoms: initial safety screening for compatibility. J Pain Symptom Manage 12 (3): 168-71, 1996.