Deliberations on euthanasia are mostly theoretical, and often lack first-hand perspectives of the affected persons.
Sixty-six patients suffering from cancer in a palliative phase were interviewed about their perspectives of euthanasia in relation to autonomy. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed using qualitative content analysis with no predetermined categories.
The informants expressed different positions on euthanasia, ranging from support to opposition, but the majority were undecided due to the complexity of the problem. The informants' perspectives on euthanasia in relation to autonomy focused on decision making, being affected by (1) power and (2) trust. Legalization of euthanasia was perceived as either (a) increasing patient autonomy by patient empowerment, or (b) decreasing patient autonomy by increasing the medical power of the health care staff, which could be frightening. The informants experienced dependence on others, and expressed various levels of trust in others' intentions, ranging from full trust to complete mistrust.
Dying cancer patients perceive that they cannot feel completely independent, which affects true autonomous decision making. Further, when considering legalization of euthanasia, the perspectives of patients fearing the effects of legalization should also be taken into account, not only those of patients opting for it.
Although previous research has indicated some recurrent themes and similarities between what patients from different cultures regard as a good death, the concept is complex and there is lack of studies from the Nordic countries. The aim of this study was to explore the perception of a good death in dying cancer patients in Sweden.
Interviews were conducted with 66 adult patients with cancer in the palliative phase who were recruited from home care and hospital care. Interviews were analysed using qualitative content analysis.
Participants viewed death as a process. A good death was associated with living with the prospect of imminent death, preparing for death and dying comfortably, e.g., dying quickly, with independence, with minimised suffering and with social relations intact. Some were comforted by their belief that death is predetermined. Others felt uneasy as they considered death an end to existence. Past experiences of the death of others influenced participants' views of a good death.
Healthcare staff caring for palliative patients should consider asking them to describe what they consider a good death in order to identify goals for care. Exploring patients' personal experience of death and dying can help address their fears as death approaches.