BACKGROUND: Since its legalisation in 2002, the number of times euthanasia has been carried out in response to requests from adults with psychiatric conditions (APC) has continued to increase. However, little is known about why and how psychiatrists become engaged in the assessment of such euthanasia requests.
METHODS: A cross-sectional survey study was conducted between November 2018 and April 2019 of 499 psychiatrists affiliated with the Flemish Psychiatry Association. Chi square/Fisher's exact tests were performed to examine if, and to what extent, psychiatrists' backgrounds relate to their concrete experiences. The answers to the open question regarding motives for (non-) engagement were thematically coded.
RESULTS: Two hundred one psychiatrists participated, a response rate of 40%. During their careers, 80% of those responding have been confronted with at least one euthanasia request from an APC patient and 73% have become involved in the assessment procedure. Their engagement was limited to the roles of: referring physician (in 44% of the psychiatrists), attending physician (30%), legally required 'advising physician' (22%), and physician participating in the actual administration of the lethal drugs (5%). Within the most recent 12 months of practice, 61% of the respondents have been actively engaged in a euthanasia assessment procedure and 9% have refused at least once to be actively engaged due to their own conscientious objections and/or the complexity of the assessment. The main motive for psychiatrists to engage in euthanasia is the patient's fundamental right in Belgian law to ask for euthanasia and the psychiatrist's duty to respect that. The perception that they were sufficiently competent to engage in a euthanasia procedure was greater in psychiatrists who have already had concrete experience in the procedure.
CONCLUSIONS: Although the majority of psychiatrists have been confronted with euthanasia requests from their APC patients, their engagement is often limited to referring the request to a colleague physician for further assessment. More research is needed to identify the determinants of a psychiatrist's engagement in euthanasia for their APC patients and to discover the consequences of their non-, or their restricted or full engagement, on both the psychotherapeutic relationship and the course of the euthanasia request.
BACKGROUND: Although the Belgian assessment pathway for legal euthanasia requires the engagement of at least one psychiatrist, little is known about psychiatrists' attitudes towards euthanasia for adults with psychiatric conditions (APC). This study aims to gauge psychiatrists' attitudes towards and readiness to engage in euthanasia assessment and/or performance procedures in APC.
METHODS: This cross-sectional survey study was performed between November 2018 and April 2019. The survey was sent to a sample of 499 eligible psychiatrists affiliated to the Flemish Association for Psychiatry, a professional association that aims to unite and represent all psychiatrists working in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking, northern part of Belgium. The Association's members comprise an estimated 80-90% of all psychiatrists active in Flanders. Only psychiatrists working with APC (83% of the association's total membership) were included. Factorial Anova and Chi Square tests were performed to examine if and to what extent psychiatrists' backgrounds were associated with, respectively, their attitudes and their readiness to play a role in euthanasia procedures concerning APC.
RESULTS: One hundred eighty-four psychiatrists completed the questionnaire (response rate 40.2%); 74.5% agree that euthanasia should remain permissible for APC. However, 68.9% question some of the approaches taken by other physicians during the euthanasia assessment and only half consider euthanasia assessment procedures compatible with the psychiatric care relationship. Where active engagement is concerned, an informal referral (68%) or preliminary advisory role (43.8%) is preferred to a formal role as a legally required advising physician (30.3%), let alone as performing physician (<10%).
CONCLUSION: Although three quarters agree with maintaining the legal option of euthanasia for APC, their readiness to take a formal role in euthanasia procedures appears to be limited. More insight is required into the barriers preventing engagement and what psychiatrists need, be it education or clarification of the legal requirements, to ensure that patients can have their euthanasia requests assessed adequately.
Background: Since Belgium legalised euthanasia, the number of performed euthanasia cases for psychological suffering in psychiatric patients has significantly increased, as well as the number of media reports on controversial cases. This has prompted several healthcare organisations and committees to develop policies on the management of these requests.
Method: Five recent initiatives that offer guidance on euthanasia requests by psychiatric patients in Flanders were analysed: the protocol of Ghent University Hospital and advisory texts of the Flemish Federation of Psychiatry, the Brothers of Charity, the Belgian Advisory Committee on Bioethics, and Zorgnet-Icuro. These were examined via critical point-by-point reflection, focusing on all legal due care criteria in order to identify: 1) proposed measures to operationalise the evaluation of the legal criteria; 2) suggestions of additional safeguards going beyond these criteria; and 3) remaining fields of tension.
Results: The initiatives are well in keeping with the legal requirements but are often more stringent. Additional safeguards that are formulated include the need for at least two positive advices from at least two psychiatrists; an a priori evaluation system; and a two-track approach, focusing simultaneously on the assessment of the patient's euthanasia request and on that person's continuing treatment. Although the initiatives are similar in intent, some differences in approach were found, reflecting different ethical stances towards euthanasia and an emphasis on practical clinical assessment versus broad ethical reflection.
Conclusions: All initiatives offer useful guidance for the management of euthanasia requests by psychiatric patients. By providing information on, and proper operationalisations of, the legal due care criteria, these initiatives are important instruments to prevent potential abuses. Apart from the additional safeguards suggested, the importance of a decision-making policy that includes many actors (e.g. the patient's relatives and other care providers) and of good aftercare for the bereaved are rightly stressed. Shortcomings of the initiatives relate to the aftercare of patients whose euthanasia request is rejected, and to uncertainty regarding the way in which attending physicians should manage negative or conflicting advices, or patients' suicide threats in case of refusal. Given the scarcity of data on how thoroughly and uniformly requests are handled in practice, it is unclear to what extent the recommendations made in these guidelines are currently being implemented.