Wishes to die at the end of life and subjective experience of four different typical dying trajectories: A qualitative interview study

Kathrin Ohnsorge, Christoph Rehmann-Sutter, Nina Streeck, Heike Gudat


Research aims The motivations that lead to wishes to die (WTD) in palliative care patients with cancer are relatively well studied. But little is known about WTD in other pathologies and the relation between subjective understandings of dying trajectories and a WTD. We investigated the WTD of palliative patients in four different dying trajectories: neurological diseases, organ failure, frailty due to age, and cancer. Study population 62 palliative cancer (n = 30) and non-cancer (n = 32) patients (10 neurological disease; 11 organ failure; 11 frailty), their families and health professionals in different palliative care settings (248 interviews). Study design and methods Qualitative semi-structured interviews. Data analysis through Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis and Grounded Theory. Results In addition to personal motivations, we found that people dealing with similar trajectories were often confronted with similar questions and concerns due to similar challenges. For four trajectories we show typical patterns, similarities and differences that should be considered when talking with patients about their WTD. These illness-related considerations do not explain the WTD completely, but give important information on the challenges for particular patient groups that might experience a WTD. In all patient groups, there were clear moments that triggered a WTD: for neurological patients it was experiencing breathlessness, high-dependency care, or when considering tube feeding or respiratory support; for persons with organ failure it was an acute burdensome crisis; for patients with cancer after the initial diagnosis, it was the first relapse or the move into advanced palliative care; for elderly frail persons it was the move into care facilities, or the loss of important relationships or capabilities. The feeling of being a burden to others was reported in all patient groups. Interpretation WTD can be triggered within disease trajectories by specific conditions and transitional points that affect agency and self-understanding. A better understanding of the concerns and challenges of a particular dying trajectory as well as its characteristic trigger points can facilitate early and comprehensive communication about patients’ WTD, and the underlying motivations and protective factors.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0210784
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)e0210784
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2019


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