A Wish to Die or a Cry for Help?

“He’s sick and tired of the pain and indignity and wants to die” is the most common reason for assisted suicide and euthanasia. However, a thought-provoking study in the journal PLoS One by researchers from the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, in Barcelona, suggests that this statement raises far more questions than it answers.

In the first place, the wish to hasten death, or WTHD as they call it, is very poorly defined.

“…studies have not distinguished clearly between a general wish to die, the wish to hasten death and requests for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Thus, one finds the indistinct use of terms such as ‘wish to die’, ‘want to die’ or ‘desire to die’, as well as ‘wish to hasten death’, ‘desire for early death’ , and other related expressions or synonyms for requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide, such as ‘death-hastening request’, ‘request to die’, ‘request for euthanasia’ and ‘request for physician-assisted suicide’.”

Second, the WTHD can change with time. Finally, there is a wide range of factors which provoke the WTHD, including pain, depression, hopelessness, the feeling of being a burden and loss of autonomy.

After synthesising a number of studies of patients who had asked for their death to be hastened, the Catalan researchers concluded that “Overall, the WTHD emerges as a phenomenon that does not necessarily imply the wish to die, and it appears as a response to an overwhelming emotional distress among patients in the advanced stages of disease.”

Michael Cook

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Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a BA at Harvard University in the US where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a PhD on an obscure corner of Australian literature. He has worked as a book editor and magazine editor and has published articles in magazines and newspapers in the US, the UK and Australia.

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