Suicide and Terminal Illness
Until recently, suicide in terminally ill patients was not well studied, both because the concept of suicide in the end stages of life was poorly defined and because suicide prevention had little meaning for those who would die in a few months anyway. In recent years, however, the study of suicide in the terminally ill has radically evolved as a result of three important trends that are likely to alter profoundly the field of suicide research in general. First, through earlier diagnosis and improved palliative care, many terminal illnesses are becoming more chronic, revolutionizing the concept of terminality. Thus, many patients with illnesses such as AIDS and cancer are living longer and dying more protracted deaths. Second, the euthanasia movement, through the efforts of the Hemlock Society and individuals such as Dr. Jack Kevorkian, has rekindled the public’s interest in physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia among the terminally ill. Third, the development of serologic tests to diagnose terminal illnesses such as AIDS or Huntington’s disease at an early, asymptomatic phase has raised concern about the suicide potential in populations at risk for these diseases.