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Medline ® Abstract for Reference 83

of 'Psychosocial issues in advanced illness'

Will to live in the terminally ill.
Chochinov HM, Tataryn D, Clinch JJ, Dudgeon D
Lancet. 1999;354(9181):816.
BACKGROUND: Complex biomedical and psychosocial considerations figure prominently in the debate about euthanasia and assisted suicide. No study to date, however, has examined the extent to which a dying patient's will to live fluctuates as death approaches.
METHODS: This study examined patients with cancer in palliative care. Will to live was measured twice daily throughout the hospital stay on a self-report 100 mm visual analogue scale. This scale was incorporated into the Edmonton symptom assessment system, a series of visual analogue scales measuring pain, nausea, shortness of breath, appetite, drowsiness, depression, sense of well-being, anxiety, and activity. Maximum and median fluctuations in will-to-live ratings, separated by 12 h, 24 h, 7 days, and 30 days, were calculated for each patient.
FINDINGS: Of 585 patients admitted to palliative care during the study period (November, 1993, to May, 1995), 168 (29%; aged 31-89 years) met criteria of cognitive and physical fitness and agreed to take part. The pattern of median changes in will-to-live score suggested that will to live was stable (median changes<10 mm on 100 mm scale for all time intervals). By contrast, the average maximum changesin will-to-live score were substantial (12 h 33.1 mm, 24 h 35.8 mm, 7 days 48.8 mm, 30 days 68.0 mm). In a series of stepwise regression models carried out at 12 h, 24 h, and 1-4 weeks after admission, the four main predictor variables of will to live were depression, anxiety, shortness of breath, and sense of well-being, with the prominence of these variables changing over time.
INTERPRETATION: Among dying patients, will to live shows substantial fluctuation, with the explanation for these changes shifting as death approaches.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. chochin@cc.umanitoba.ca