A survey of Boston-area cancer patients and physicians has indicated that depression rather than physical pain is the motivating factor leading patients to opt for assisted suicide.

The survey was conducted by Dr. Ezekial Emanuel of the Dana- Farber Cancer Institute and was as published in the July issue of The Lancet, a British medical journal.

It overturns the main argument of pro-euthanasia advocates tat assisted suicide should be legalized to end patient’s physical suffering.

Based on questions to cancer patients, oncologists and members of the public, the survey found those experiencing pain were not as likely to support assisted suicide as commonly suspected. In fact 20 per cent of cancer patients said they would change physicians if they learned that their doctor practiced euthanasia.

The survey suggested patients who discover their doctor supports assisted suicide might become concerned that the doctor would be less interested in alleviating their symptoms.

The survey also included responses from cancer specialists, many of whom feared their patients would change doctors if they were in favour of lethal drug injections for patients requesting it.

This indicates that cancer specialists would better serve their patients by emphasizing pain management and by paying more attention to treating depression and psychological distress.

“Good pain management is a lot of work,” Dr. Emanuel told The Boston Globe. “That may be one of the reasons it may be done so well. Euthanasia and physician- assisted suicide may be an easier out and people worry about that.”

Dr. Emanuel also said the survey results show the importance of dealing with the emotional aspects of cancer treatment. He also called for psychological screening for any patients making a request for assisted suicide.

The U.S. survey supports research in the Netherlands showing that pain is the sole justification for euthanasia in only five percent of cases. A final ironic note of the survey is that while the majority of cancer patients support the legalization of assisted suicide, the majority of actual euthanasia cases are carried out on depressed patients, rather than those in great pain.