Epidemiological studies of suicide in the elderly indicate that, in the last few decades, there has been a relevant increase in suicide rates in old age in a number of Asian and Latin nations, with an almost parallel decrease in Anglo-Saxon counties. Mental disorders, particularly depression, physical illness, personality traits such as hostility, hopelessness, the inability to verbally express psychological pain and dependency on others, recent life events and losses are all factors that may contribute to suicide in later life. Compared with suicide in other age groups, mors voluntaris in late life is associated with the use of highly lethal methods, less ambivalence and impulsivity, and more determination and intent to die. Accordingly, elderly suicidal individuals are more likely than younger subjects to complete rather than attempt suicide. Some evidence suggests also that the characteristics of elderly individuals who attempt suicide may not overlap with those who complete suicide. Death thoughts and suicidal ideations are relatively rare among mentally healthy elderly adults, and are less predominant in this age bracket. However, whether elderly suicidal behaviour exists along a continuum, progressing in severity from death thoughts and suicidal ideation to suicide attempts and completed suicide, remains unclear. Assisted suicide and euthanasia in the elderly have been associated with the desire to escape chronic physical pain and suffering caused by terminal illness, and to relieve mental anguish and feelings of hopelessness, depression and extreme "tiredness of life." The role of the family and those treating chronically ill members is crucial in the final stages of life, particularly when autonomy and the ability of the elderly individual to make end-of-life decisions are compromised. The main aspects associated with these controversial phenomena, particularly from a transcultural perspective, are reviewed in this article.