A study conducted by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University shows that one out of four people who request lethal medications under Oregon’s assisted suicide law may suffer from depression. The prevalence of depression suggests that mental health issues should be considered whenever assisted suicide is contemplated. In advance of their publication, results of this study will be posted in the online issue of the British Medical Journal.
To conduct the research, psychiatrists at OHSU evaluated 58 Oregonians who had requested assistance in dying from their physician or an organization that might assist. Most of the patients had been diagnosed with terminal cancer or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Participants in the study were evaluated through two forms of standardized depression and anxiety rating scales. The results of these screenings determined that 26 percent (15 people) of people who requested PAS suffered from depression and 22 percent (13 people) suffered from anxiety. When anxiety or depression was diagnosed in a study participant, counseling services were offered.
Of the 58 people involved, 42 had died by the end of the study, either through assisted suicide or factors related to their disease. A total of 18 patients received prescriptions for lethal medication; nine used the medication to commit suicide.Three patients with depression died through physician assisted suicide within two months of participation in the study.
“Based on the circumstances these patients are facing, a certain amount of depression would not be unexpected. In fact, the finding that three-quarters of requesting patients have no depression is somewhat surprising,” explained Linda Ganzini, M.D. M.P.H., the study’s lead author. “However, our study also supports that more rigorous screening for depression should occur as part of the physician assisted suicide process.”