Doctors and their patients: a context for understanding the wish to hasten death

Brian Kelly, Paul Burnett, Shirlene Badger, Dan Pelusi, Francis T Varghese, Marguerite Robertson
Psycho-oncology 2003, 12 (4): 375-84
There is a paucity of research that has directly examined the role of the health professional in dealing with a terminally ill patient's wish to hasten death (WTHD) and the implications of this for the support and services needed in the care for a dying patient. Themes to emerge from a qualitative analysis of interviews conducted on doctors (n=24) involved in the treatment and care of terminally ill patients were (i). the doctors' experiences in caring for their patients (including themes of emotional demands/expectations, the duration of illness, and the availability of palliative care services); (ii). the doctors' perception of the care provided to their respective patients (comprising themes concerning satisfaction with the care for physical symptoms, for emotional symptoms, or overall care); (iii). the doctors' attitudes to euthanasia and (iv). the doctors' perception of their patients' views/beliefs regarding euthanasia and hastened death. When responses were categorised according to the patients' level of a WTHD, the theme concerning the prolonged nature of the patients' illnesses was prominent in the doctor group who had patients with the highest WTHD, whereas there was only a minority of responses concerning support from palliative care services and satisfaction with the level of emotional care in this group.This exploratory study presents a set of descriptive findings identifying themes among a small group of doctors who have been involved in the care of terminally ill cancer patients, to investigate factors that may be associated with the WTHD among these patients. The pattern of findings suggest that research investigating the doctor-patient interaction in this setting may add to our understanding of the problems (for patients and their doctors) that underpins the wish to hasten death in the terminally ill.

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