Content of health status reports of people seeking assisted suicide: a qualitative analysis [Book Review]

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 14 (3):265-272 (2011)
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Abstract

Two right-to-die organisations offer assisted suicide in Switzerland. The specific legal situation allows assistance to Swiss and foreign citizens. Both organisations require a report of the person’s health status before considering assistance. This qualitative study explored these reports filed to legal authorities after the deaths of individuals in the area of Zurich. Health status reports in the legal medical dossiers of the deceased were analysed using content analysis and Grounded Theory. From 421 cases of assisted suicide (2001–2004), 350 reports on health status were filed. Many cases contained diagnosis lists only. Other reports had more elaborate reports revealing that some physicians were aware about the patient’s death wish and the intention to solicit assisted suicide. Physicians’ attitudes ranged from neutral to rather depreciative. Few physicians openly referred the patient to the organisations and supported the patient’s request by highlighting a history of suffering as well as reporting understanding and agreement with the patient’s wish to hasten death. In the health status reports five categories could be identified. Some files revealed that physicians were aware of the death wish. The knowledge and recognition of the patient’s death wish varied from no apparent awareness to strongly supportive. This variety might be due to difficulties to discuss the death wish with patients, but might also reflect the challenge to avoid legal prosecution in the country of origin. To require comparable health status reports as requirements for the right-to-die organisations might be difficult to pursue

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