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JAMA. 1998 Jan 28;279(4):323-8.

The request to die: role for a psychodynamic perspective on physician-assisted suicide.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY 10032-3784, USA.


Published reports indicate that 2.5% of deaths in the Netherlands are the result of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. It is not known how many patients make these requests in the United States, but the issue has gained considerable attention, including that of the Supreme Court. The focus of the writing and discussion regarding the request to die has been on a patient's capacity. There has not been an adequate focus on the possible meanings contained within the request to die. A patient's request to die is a situation that requires the physician to engage in a dialogue to understand what the request means, including whether the request arises from a clinically significant depression or inadequately treated pain. This article outlines some of the thoughts and emotions that could underlie the patient's request to die. Recommendations are made regarding the role of the primary care physician and the role of the psychiatric consultant in the exploration of the meaning of the request.

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