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Lancet. 1999 Sep 4;354(9181):816-9.

Will to live in the terminally ill.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.



Complex biomedical and psychosocial considerations figure prominently in the debate about euthanasia and assisted suicide. No study to date, however, has examined the extent to which a dying patient's will to live fluctuates as death approaches.


This study examined patients with cancer in palliative care. Will to live was measured twice daily throughout the hospital stay on a self-report 100 mm visual analogue scale. This scale was incorporated into the Edmonton symptom assessment system, a series of visual analogue scales measuring pain, nausea, shortness of breath, appetite, drowsiness, depression, sense of well-being, anxiety, and activity. Maximum and median fluctuations in will-to-live ratings, separated by 12 h, 24 h, 7 days, and 30 days, were calculated for each patient.


Of 585 patients admitted to palliative care during the study period (November, 1993, to May, 1995), 168 (29%; aged 31-89 years) met criteria of cognitive and physical fitness and agreed to take part. The pattern of median changes in will-to-live score suggested that will to live was stable (median changes <10 mm on 100 mm scale for all time intervals). By contrast, the average maximum changes in will-to-live score were substantial (12 h 33.1 mm, 24 h 35.8 mm, 7 days 48.8 mm, 30 days 68.0 mm). In a series of stepwise regression models carried out at 12 h, 24 h, and 1-4 weeks after admission, the four main predictor variables of will to live were depression, anxiety, shortness of breath, and sense of well-being, with the prominence of these variables changing over time.


Among dying patients, will to live shows substantial fluctuation, with the explanation for these changes shifting as death approaches.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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