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Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2001 Nov-Dec;23(6):326-32.

Instability of attitudes about euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in depressed older hospitalized patients.

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Braceland Center for Mental Health and Aging, Institute of Living, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Hartford, CT 06106, USA.


The objective of this study was to examine the interest of non-terminally ill hospitalized elderly patients in euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (PAS) and to determine the stability of these interests over time. Patients age 60 or older (n=158), including both a depressed sample and non-depressed control sample, underwent a structured interview evaluating their interest in euthanasia and PAS in the event of a series of hypothetical outcome scenarios. Substantial proportions of subjects (varying from 13.3%-42% depending on the scenario) expressed hypothetical acceptance of euthanasia and PAS. After six months a subset of patients changed their minds about euthanasia and PAS (8% - 26% depending on the scenario), most often in the direction of initial acceptance to later rejection. Patients depressed in the hospital and interested in PAS for the outcome of their current (non-terminal) condition were significantly more likely express unstable opinions, with most rejecting it six months later. Other correlations of instability, in specific scenarios, included being male, experiencing higher baseline suffering, poorer subjective health and lower instrumental support. Because euthanasia and PAS actions are irreversible, findings of instability have important implications both clinically and for design of PAS legislation.

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