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Silent suicide in the elderly.

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Georgetown University School of Medicine, Bethesda, MD 20814.


The suicide rate in the United States rises consistently with age. Silent suicide is defined as the intention, often masked, to kill oneself by nonviolent means through self-starvation or noncompliance with essential medical treatment. Silent suicide frequently goes unrecognized because of undiagnosed depression and the interjection of the personal belief systems of health-care providers and family members. Elderly individuals committing silent suicide are often thought to be making rational end of life decisions. However, the elderly committing silent suicide must be distinguished from terminally ill patients who refuse further treatment in order not to prolong the act of dying. The clinical/legal issues surrounding silent suicide will be discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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