Assisted Suicide Laws may Not Adequately Protect Depressed Patients

by VR Sreeraman on October 13, 2008 at 1:30 PM
 Assisted Suicide Laws may Not Adequately Protect Depressed Patients

One in four terminally ill patients in the State of Oregon who opt for physician assisted suicide have clinical depression and the Death with Dignity Act may not be adequately protecting them, concludes a study published on bmj.

In 1997, the State of Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act that allows physician assisted dying for terminally ill patients.


The extent to which potentially treatable psychiatric disorders may influence patients' choices to hasten death is hotly debated. There are several safeguards in the Act to ensure patients are competent to make the decision to end their life. This includes referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist if there is concern that a patient's judgment might be impaired because of mental illness.

However, it is well known that health care professionals often fail to recognise depression among the mentally ill. In 2007, none of the 46 Oregonians who died by lethal ingestion were evaluated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Dr Linda Ganzini and colleagues from Oregon Health and Science University, assessed 58 Oregonians who were terminally ill and had requested physician assisted suicide or contacted an aid in dying organisation, to determine if they had depression or anxiety. The authors used standardised measures including questionnaires and interviews to assess depression and anxiety in the participants.

The researchers found that the current practice of legalised assistance with dying allowed some potentially ineligible (clinically depressed) patients to receive a lethal prescription.

Fifteen of the participants met the criteria for depression and 13 for anxiety. Forty-two patients had died by the end of the study, 18 received a prescription for a lethal medication under the Act and nine died by lethal ingestion. Fifteen who received a lethal prescription did not meet the criteria for depression, three did, and all three died by lethal ingestion within two months of the research interview.

Although the authors acknowledge that most patients who request aid in dying do not have a depressive disorder they point out that "the current practice of Death with Dignity Act may not adequately protect all mentally ill patients" and call for "increased vigilance and systematic examination for depression among patients who may access legalised aid in dying."

In an accompanying editorial, Dr Marije van der Lee from the Helen Dowling Institute in the Netherlands, says that while it is vital to protect vulnerable patients, examining terminally ill patients to determine if depression is impairing their judgement is complex.

She believes that depression does not necessarily impair judgement and says that in the Netherlands what is most important is that the patient makes an informed decision. She concludes: "we should focus on trying to 'protect' patients from becoming depressed in the first place, rather than focus on protecting patients from assisted suicide."

Source: BMJ
Font : A-A+



Recommended Readings

Latest Mental Health News

New Suicide Crisis Helpline in Canada
The Canadian government has launched 988, a new three-digit suicide crisis helpline to provide suicide prevention support.
Pickling Positivity: Lactobacillus Guards Against Anxiety, Depression
Lactobacillus unveils new avenues for therapies targeting anxiety, depression, and various mental health conditions.
Can Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Therapy Alter Brain Activity?
Neuroimaging exposes alterations in connectivity among individuals dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), stated study.
How Stress Induce Emotional Overeating?
Proenkephalin, a chemical molecule present in the brain's hypothalamus, is linked to emotionally driven overeating in response to stress and threats.
From Inflation to Global Affairs- Americans are Stressed on Holidays
Americans experience stress over the holidays, due to inflation, world affairs, rising flu and COVID-19 instances, and previous holiday melt-down.
View All
This site uses cookies to deliver our services.By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy, Privacy Policy, and our Terms of Use  Ok, Got it. Close

Assisted Suicide Laws may Not Adequately Protect Depressed Patients Personalised Printable Document (PDF)

Please complete this form and we'll send you a personalised information that is requested

You may use this for your own reference or forward it to your friends.

Please use the information prudently. If you are not a medical doctor please remember to consult your healthcare provider as this information is not a substitute for professional advice.

Name *

Email Address *

Country *

Areas of Interests