Autumn 2001 / Leading Edge
Why People Turn to Euthanasia

Loss of social connections plays a major role, researchers find

Social isolation is just as likely as physical suffering to motivate people with HIV and AIDS to consider euthanasia and assisted suicide, says a U of T study published in the British medical journal The Lancet. Few researchers have addressed why patients seek out this type of death, says lead author James Lavery, who was a PhD student at the Joint Centre for Bioethics when he conducted the study. Lavery, co-author Peter Singer and a research team interviewed 32 people with HIV and AIDS. Lavery says two main factors – physical deterioration and loss of community – influenced the patients’ desire for a planned death. The discovery that the loss of social connections also plays a key role in decisions about euthanasia provides new insight for those concerned with end-of-life care, says Lavery: “We might never eliminate the desire for euthanasia and assisted suicide without also addressing influential broader social circumstances.”

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