Assisted suicide patients 'could have been treated for depression'

Assisted suicide laws may not provide adequate protection to people with depression, a study of terminally ill patients in the US state of Oregon suggests.

Researchers carried out psychiatric assessments on 47 patients who had requested aid in dying. Among patients who went on to receive a prescription for a lethal drug, 17 per cent met criteria for depression.

Doctors can assist patients’ death, but must refer patients who may have a mental disorder which might affect their judgement, such as depression, to a psychiatrist.

The researchers suggest that the practice of legalised aid in dying may allow potentially ineligible patients to receive a prescription for a lethal drug because some patients’ depression is missed or overlooked.

BMJ Online First

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