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Keywords:

  • palliative care;
  • wish to hasten death;
  • cancer;
  • oncology;
  • literature review

Abstract

It is common for patients who are faced with physical or psychological suffering, particularly those in the advanced stages of a disease, to have some kind of wish to hasten death (WTHD). This paper reviews and summarises the current state of knowledge about the WTHD among people with end-stage disease, doing so from a clinical perspective and on the basis of published clinical research. Studies were identified through a search strategy applied to the main scientific databases.

Clinical studies show that the WTHD has a multi-factor aetiology. The literature review suggests—perhaps in line with better management of physical pain—that psychological and spiritual aspects, including social factors, are the most important cause of such a wish. One of the difficulties facing clinical research is the lack of terminological and conceptual precision in defining the construct. Indeed, studies frequently blur the distinction between a generic wish to die, a WTDH (whether sporadic or persistent over time), the explicit expression of a wish to die, and a request for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.

A notable contribution to knowledge in this field has been made by scales designed to evaluate the WTHD, although the problems of conceptual definition may once again limit the conclusions, which can be drawn from the results. Studies using qualitative methodology have also provided new information that can help in understanding such wishes.

Further clinical research is needed to provide a complete understanding of this phenomenon and to foster the development of suitable care plans. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.