A team of psychology and ethics researchers has published a study revealing that liberal legal attitudes to assisted suicide do not increase the desire for death in patients with incurable diseases. The study, carried out in Switzerland, does however show that patients can imagine asking their doctor to administer a lethal drug — something Swiss law forbids.
The results of a series of interviews with the 33 patients revealed that 94 percent did not have any desire for assisted suicide, but 57 percent could imagine a time when doctors administer the drug (currently, Swiss law insists that the lethal dose be self-administered). In addition, 54 percent said they could imagine a time when they would ask their doctor for a lethal drug prescription, to be taken at a later date of their choosing. The findings reveal that patients have a strong desire to take their own healthcare, treatment and fate in their own hands — which is essentially why assisted suicide exists in the first place, to allow those who feel they are losing control of their minds or bodies to regain power and see their own will take shape again.
“This research makes it clear that doctors throughout Switzerland should be prepared to discuss end-of-life options with these kinds of patients,” says Stutzki.
Most importantly, for skeptics out there who look at stories of increasing assisted suicide centre membership (including hundreds of British members) and say that legality increases the wish for premature death, liberal laws do not seem to affect the actual decision-making process.
“Other factors such as family life, quality of care and overall quality of life play a bigger role in determining the desire for assisted suicide than the mere existence of the permissive law,” says Stutzki. “But the possibility to eventually discuss the option with their doctor at a later stage is a comfort for the patient.”