Why do older people oppose physician-assisted dying? A qualitative study

Palliative Medicine     
Palliat Med April 2014   vol. 28  no. 4  353-359
Abstract
Background: Physician-assisted dying at the end of life has become a significant issue of public discussion. While legally available in a number of countries and jurisdictions, it remains controversial and illegal in New Zealand.

Aim: The study aimed to explore the reasons some healthy older New Zealanders oppose physician-assisted dying in order to inform current debate.

Design: Recorded interviews were transcribed and analysed by the authors after some edits had been made by respondents.

Setting/participants: In all, 11 older participants (over 65 years) who responded to advertisements placed in Grey Power magazines and a University of Auckland email list were interviewed for around 1 h and asked a number of open-ended questions.

Results: Four central themes opposing physician-assisted dying were identified from the interviews: one’s personal experience with health care and dying and death, religious reasoning and beliefs, slippery slope worries and concern about potential abuses if physician-assisted dying were legalised.

Conclusions: An important finding of the study suggests that how some older individuals think about physician-assisted dying is strongly influenced by their past experiences of dying and death. While some participants had witnessed good, well-managed dying and death experiences which confirmed for them the view that physician-assisted dying was unnecessary, those who had witnessed poor dying and death experiences opposed physician-assisted dying on the grounds that such practices could come to be abused by others.

1. Phillipa J Malpas – 1Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
2. Maria KR Wilson – 2The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
3. Nicola Rae – 3Counties Manukau Health Chronic Pain Service, Manukau SuperClinic, Auckland, New Zealand
4. Malcolm Johnson – 1Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
http://pmj.sagepub.com/content/28/4/353