Mar. 12, 1997 Date: March 10, 1997 Contact: Catherine A. Bryan Public Affairs Office (202) 336-5700 email@example.com (email)
NEW STUDY IS FIRST TO LOOK BEYOND GENERAL ATTITUDES ABOUT END-OF-LIFE OPTIONS AND ASK OLDER PEOPLE WHAT THEY WOULD DO
Many Want Family Member, Close Friend or Physician to Make the
WASHINGTON -- It used to be that when you had a life-
threatening illness you waited it out. Nowadays you have options.
A new study in the just-released March issue of Psychology and
Aging, published by the American Psychological Association (APA),
looks at the factors that influence older adults end-of-life
Psychologist Victor Cicirelli, Ph.D., from Purdue University
asked 388 older adults (ages 60 to 100) to respond to 17 different
situations about end-of-life options. Each scenario depicted either
a terminal or nonterminal condition accompanied by a low quality of
life. Approximately one-third of the participants wanted someone
else -- a family member, close friend or physician -- to make their
Why? Dr. Cicirelli believes that older adults have been
socialized to see physicians as authority figures and may not feel
that they can make their own decisions about their end-of-life
options. Thus, they defer the decision to their physician. Another
explanation is an older person's tendency to think that a family
member will make decisions for them if needed. "An additional
factor," says Dr. Cicirelli, "is the personality of these older
individuals, particularly their belief that powerful others control
"Earlier studies on end-of-life decisions looked at general
attitudes about the options. My study asked older adults what they
would do in situations where they had reduced ability to move, were
dependent on someone else, were in pain and so forth. The results
imply that older adults want the options, but a majority would
rather live than end their life," says Dr. Cicirelli.
Other results of the study revealed that a minority
(approximately one-tenth of the study participants) did want to end
their life under low quality conditions, but there was no
preference about which method they would use (suicide, assisted
suicide or voluntary active euthanasia).
Dr. Cicirelli's research also found that the factors that
influence older people's views regarding the various decision
options at the end-of-life are not the same as those that influence
suicide. Well-being, poor health, dependency, stress due to
critical life events and lack of social support, all precursors of
suicide, were unrelated to decisions to end life in these
Article: "Relationship of Psychosocial and Background Variables to
Older Adults' End-of-Life Decisions" by Victor G. Cicirelli, Ph.D.,
Purdue University, in Psychology of Aging, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.
(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)
The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington,
DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization
representing psychology in the United States and is the world's
largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes
more than 142,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants
and students. Through its divisions in 49 subfields of psychology
and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial
associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a
profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.
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