By Janissa Delzo
If you learned you had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, would you ever consider physician-assisted death (PAD)?
This is the question asked of participants in a Penn Memory Center study published this week in JAMA Neurology. About 20 percent of individuals who had learned they had elevated beta-amyloid, an Alzheimer’s-linked protein, reported that they would consider PAD “if they became cognitively impaired, were suffering, or were burdening others.”
The team lead by author and PMC scholar Emily Largent first interviewed 50 individuals from the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s study 4 to 12 weeks after they were informed of elevated beta-amyloid in their brain; some had broached the subject of PAD without prompting by researchers. At a 12-month follow-up, 47 participants were asked about PAD.
Under current U.S. laws, persons with dementia are not eligible for PAD. However, in seven states and Washington D.C., those who are competent and terminally ill are eligible.
“There are ongoing ethics and policy debates around whether to extend physician-assisted death to patients with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s,” said Largent. “This was a unique opportunity to gauge interest in PAD in people who recently learned they were at increased risk for dementia.”
One participant called for more research into the topic.
“You should not have to suffer, and if you do not remember anything and you are just a burden, then that is not any kind of life,” the participant told researchers.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would not consider physician-assisted death, citing personal, religious, or philosophical objections.
Largent’s team interviewed 30 individuals who did not have elevated beta-amyloid. When asked to consider a hypothetical situation in which they did, their responses regarding PAD or suicide were similar to those with elevated amyloid.
PMC Co-Director Jason Karlawish, MD, and Research Program Manager Kristin Harkins, MPH, are also co-authors on the paper. To read the full research letter, titled “Attitudes Toward Physician-Assisted Death From Individuals Who Learn They Have an Alzheimer’s Disease Biomarker,” click here.