Scientists at The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) have found that older people in Ireland who express a desire to die are suffering from depression and loneliness. The study involved 8,000 older individuals living in a community setting. Interestingly, the wish to die was found to be temporary among the vast majority.
These findings are important, as Ireland is soon to consider the Dying with Dignity Bill 2020, which aims to legalize assisted suicide for people with terminal illnesses. The definition of “terminal illness” in the bill includes chronic illness, according to Professor Rose Anne Kenney, a senior author of the study.
Results were published in the journal “Age and Ageing,” and revealed that of those surveyed, one in 29 community-dwelling older people (age 50 and up) said they wished to die in the previous month. They also had thoughts of their own death and believed they would be better off dead. Sixty percent of those who said they wished to die also had co-existing depressive symptoms and 75% said they were lonely. Of those who expressed a wish to die, however, those feelings were temporary, and within two years 72% said they no longer felt that way. In addition, their feelings of loneliness and depressive symptoms also improved, which suggested an important connection.
“These findings demonstrate the close association between depression and the wish to die in later life,” said Dr. Robert Briggs, author of the study. “Most older people with both a wish to die and co-existing depression had not been formally diagnosed with depression, nor received appropriate mental health treatment. Less than one-tenth had received psychological counseling. An enhanced focus on improving access to mental health care should therefore form an important part of any discussion around assisted dying in later life.”
As a result of these findings, researchers have proposed improving access to mental health care to deal with the social isolation concerns surrounding older people, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “The timing of these findings greatly increases their importance and they should inform the decision of legislators and practitioners as they consider the complex issue of assisted dying in the Dying and Dignity Bill 2020,” said Professor Kenny. “Almost two-thirds of participants expressing a wish to die in this study have at least one chronic illness; meeting the criteria for a ‘terminal illness’ as proposed in the bill.”
Assisted suicide preys on vulnerable people, and as previously reported by Live Action News, there is no time limit on when a “terminal illness” will actually take someone’s life. Chronic illnesses are long-term and those who have them can lead happy, healthy lives with proper care.
Multiple studies have shown that those who seek assisted suicide do so not because they want to die a so-called “dignified” death, but because they are depressed and hopeless and they fear being a burden on their loved ones. This most recent research out of Ireland supports this and shows that with time and mental health care, feelings can change and individuals who previously expressed a wish to die can change their minds. If assisted suicide had been offered to them during the time of their depression and loneliness, they may have agreed to it.
The medical community has an ethical responsibility to give people proper mental health care along with physical health care. Prescribed death is not a treatment for any condition — be it depression, old age, or cancer.