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Support Care Cancer. 2002 May;10(4):309-13. Epub 2002 Mar 7.

Requests for euthanasia made to a tertiary referral teaching hospital in Sydney, Australia in the year 2000.

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  • 1Department of Palliative Care, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


A request for euthanasia (RFE) in the terminally ill raises concerns that physical and/or mental suffering remain unaddressed and thus mandates a critical appraisal of the physical and psychosocial aspects of the individual concerned. An alert datasheet (AD) is completed at the weekly Palliative Care Service (PCS) meeting as a measure of self-audit and deals with issues considered to be of importance in ensuring high-quality patient care, one of which is a RFE. The ADs for the year 2000 were examined, and where a RFE was made, the contributing factors as documented on the forms together with demographic data, the case synopsis and patient-rated main three problems/issues were appraised. Among 490 patients referred to the service, there were 6 RFE (1.6%) recorded. These were made by 1 female (age 44) and 5 male (age range 58-78 years) patients. Four of these patients had a cancer diagnosis (all had metastatic disease). Median survival from first contact with the PCS was 13 days (range 4-29). The contributing factors identified were: uncontrolled symptoms (2/6 - severe constipation in both), depression (1/6), issues of burden/dependency (6/6), lack of autonomy/control (4/6), sense of hopelessness (3/6) and social isolation (4/6). The patient-rated main three problems were: (i) physical symptoms (5/6), specifically pain (2/6), shortness of breath (2/6), fatigue (1/6) and nausea (1/6), and (ii) psychosocial issues (4/6). A RFE was seen to be a multifactorial entity (issues of burden/dependency being universal) and merits a focused appraisal in order to adequately address potentially unrecognised issues that contribute to suffering. The short median survival from the time of referral to the service suggests that (i) RFEs are made late in the trajectory of the illness and (ii) these patients are being referred late in the course of their illness - thus limiting the window in which these issues can be addressed.

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