Public Release: 

Physician assisted suicide and why patients are motivated to seek death

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

May 5, 2005 - Patients motivated to seek a doctor for their death wish did so after a deliberative and thoughtful process rather than on impulse, according to a research study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine . The study involved 35 cases in which patients considered physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and presents data which until now has been very limited.

Through interviews with these patients and their family members, researchers worked to obtain detailed information regarding their thought processes, motivations, and experiences. It was discovered that patients in this study were motivated to engage in PAS due to three types of issues: illness-related experience (fatigue, functional loss, or discomfort), loss of sense of self or identity, and fears about the future (deterioration).

None of the patients seemed to be seriously depressed when they planned the assisted suicide. The motivations expressed are similar to those of other patients who decline life-sustaining treatment.

"The motivations for physician-assisted suicide identify issues for physicians to explore with patients who have chronic illness and life-shortening disease," states Robert A. Pearlman, lead author of the study. "These findings can help health care providers remember to address the far reaching effects of the illness, including the quality of the dying experience with their patients."

Physician-assisted suicide, where doctors prescribe medications to patients for them to self-administer to cause death and end suffering, is widely practiced throughout the United States but currently only authorized in the state of Oregon for terminally ill patients.


Robert A. Pearlman, MD, MPH, is the Director of the Ethics Program at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and the Chief of the Evaluation Services for the National Center for Ethics in Health Care. For more information on this study, contact Jeri Rowe of the VA Medical Center press office at 206-764-2435.

This study is published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact

About the Journal of General Internal Medicine

The Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM ) is the official scientific publication of the Society of General Internal Medicine, whose mission is to promote improved patient care, research, and education in primary care and general internal medicine. JGIM articles focus on topics such as clinical research, curriculum development, epidemiology, prevention, and health care delivery in general internal medicine.

About the Society of General Internal Medicine

The Society of General Internal Medicine is an international organization of physicians and others who combine caring for patients with educating and/or doing research. The society is dedicated to improving patient care, education, and research in primary care and general internal medicine. For more information visit

About Blackwell Publishing

Blackwell Publishing is the world's leading society publisher, partnering with more than 600 academic and professional societies. Blackwell publishes over 750 journals and 600 text and reference books annually, across a wide range of academic, medical, and professional subjects.

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