Current wishes to die; characteristics of middle-aged and older Dutch adults who are ready to give up on life: a cross-sectional study

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-14 (2021)
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Abstract

BackgroundLiterature shows that middle-aged and older adults sometimes experience a wish to die. Reasons for these wishes may be complex and involve multiple factors. One important question is to what extent people with a wish to die have medically classifiable conditions. Aim Estimate the prevalence of a current wish to die among middle-aged and older adults in The Netherlands; explore which factors within domains of vulnerability are associated with a current wish to die; assess how many middle-aged and older adults with a current wish to die do not have a medically classifiable condition and/or an accumulation of age-related health problems.MethodsData of 2015/16 from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam were used for this cross-sectional study, obtained through structured medical interviews and self-reported questionnaires. Three experienced physicians assessed whether the participants with a current wish to die could be classified as having a medically classifiable condition and/or an accumulation of age-related health problems.ResultsN = 62 participants had a current wish to die. Having a current wish to die was associated with multiple characteristics across four domains of vulnerability, among which: self-perceived health, problems with memory, self-perceived quality of life and meaningfulness of life. Fifty-four participants with a current wish to die were assessed with having a medically classifiable condition, of which one was also assessed with having an accumulation of age-related health problems. Six people were assessed to have neither, and for two people it was unclear.ConclusionA small minority of middle-aged and older adults in the Netherlands have a current wish to die. Most of them can be classified with a medical condition and one person with an accumulation of age-related health problems. Furthermore, the findings show that having a current wish to die is multi-faceted. There is still a need for more knowledge, such as insight in to what extent suffering stemming from the medical classifiable disease contributes to the development of the wish to die.

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