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Assisted suicides driven by loss of self
By Reuters,, 8/7/2001
LONDON - Loss of self, more than unbearable pain or prolonged suffering,
is why many people who have life-threatening illnesses consider
euthanasia and assisted suicide, researchers said last Friday.
In a study that offers new insights into why people desire to end their
lives, scientists at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.,
questioned 32 HIV/AIDS patients in Canada.
In open-ended interviews, the researchers asked them to explain how they
felt about their illnesses and why they considered euthanasia and
assisted suicide as possible options.
''Participants desired euthanasia or assisted suicide because of
disintegration and loss of community, which combined to create a
perception of loss of self,'' said James Lavery, who led the study.
One person described it as wanting to die with dignity while still in
control of body and mind. Another spoke of the stigma of the illness and
a fear of contact with an infected person. For some, the senses of
isolation and alienation are too much to bear.
''Our results suggest that an understanding of loss of self, which is a
metaphysical phenomenon, is essential to understand desire for euthanasia
or assisted suicide,'' Lavery said in the report in The Lancet medical
Although their study involved only patients with HIV/AIDS, the
researchers said the findings are applicable to people with other
debilitating, degenerative diseases or illnesses affecting the elderly
and other marginalized sections of society.
The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize
euthanasia in April. Other nations, including neighboring Belgium, are
considering similar moves.
The researchers said guidelines in the Netherlands or in states where
assisted suicide is allowed do not address the social circumstances that
contribute to a desire for euthanasia.
Anthony Back and Robert Pearlman of the University of Washington in
Seattle described the study as a ''road map into the world of a person''
contemplating assisted suicide.
''The complexity of loss of self suggests why simpler explanations, such
as pain, depression, or high-control personality, each fail as individual
explanations for the desire for assisted suicide,'' they said in a
commentary on the research.
This story ran on page C2 of the Boston Globe on 8/7/2001. © Copyright
2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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