Attitudes towards assisted suicide and euthanasia among care-dependent older adults (50+) in Austria: the role of socio-demographics, religiosity, physical illness, psychological distress, and social isolation

BMC Medical Ethics 18 (1):1-13 (2017)
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Abstract

Background Care-dependency constitutes an important issue with regard to the approval of end-of-life decisions, yet attitudes towards assisted suicide and euthanasia are understudied among care-dependent older adults. We assessed attitudes towards assisted suicide and euthanasia and tested empirical correlates, including socio-demographics, religiosity, physical illness, psychological distress and social isolation. Methods A nationwide cross-sectional survey among older care allowance recipients in private households in Austria was conducted in 2016. In computer-assisted personal interviews, 493 respondents were asked whether or not they approved of the availability of assisted suicide and euthanasia in case of long-term care dependency and whether or not they would consider using assisted suicide or euthanasia for themselves. Multiple logistic regression analysis was used to assess the impact of potential determinants of attitudes towards assisted suicide and euthanasia. Results About a quarter of the sampled care-dependent older adults approved of the availability of assisted suicide and euthanasia respectively indicated the will to make use of assisted suicide or euthanasia. Attitudes towards assisted suicide were most favourable among care-dependent older adults living in urban areas, those who did not trust physicians, those who reported active suicide ideation, and individuals with a strong fear of dying. With regard to euthanasia, living alone, religiosity and fear of dying were the central determinants of acceptance. Conclusions Positive attitudes towards and will to use assisted suicide and euthanasia were expressed by a substantial minority of care-dependent older adults in Austria and are driven by current psychological suffering and fear of the process of dying in the future. Community-based psychosocial care should be expanded to address psychological distress and fears about end-of-life issues among care-dependent older adults.

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