Background: Physicians who receive a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide may experience a conflict of duties: the duty to preserve life on the one hand and the duty to relieve suffering on the other hand. Little is known about experiences of physicians with receiving and granting a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide. This study, therefore, aimed to explore the concerns, feelings and pressure experienced by physicians who receive requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Methods: In 2016, a cross-sectional study was conducted. Questionnaires were sent to a random sample of 3000 Dutch physicians. Physicians who had been working in adult patient care in the Netherlands for the last year were included in the sample (n = 2657). Half of the physicians were asked about the most recent case in which they refused a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide, and half about the most recent case in which they granted a request for euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Results: Of the 2657 eligible physicians, 1374 (52%) responded. The most reported reason not to participate was lack of time. Of the respondents, 248 answered questions about a refused euthanasia or assisted suicide request and 245 about a granted EAS request. Concerns about specific aspects of the euthanasia and assisted suicide process, such as the emotional burden of preparing and performing euthanasia or assisted suicide were commonly reported by physicians who refused and who granted a request. Pressure to grant a request was mostly experienced by physicians who refused a request, especially if the patient was =80 years, had a life-expectancy of =6 months and did not have cancer. The large majority of physicians reported contradictory emotions after having performed euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Conclusions: Society should be aware of the impact of euthanasia and assisted suicide requests on physicians. The tension physicians experience may decrease their willingness to perform euthanasia and assisted suicide. On the other hand, physicians should not be forced to cross their own moral boundaries or be tempted to perform euthanasia and assisted suicide in cases that may not meet the due care criteria.
On 11 September 2019, the verdict was read in the first prosecution of a doctor for euthanasia since the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act of 2002 was installed in the Netherlands. The case concerned euthanasia on the basis of an advance euthanasia directive (AED) for a patient with severe dementia. In this paper we describe the review process for euthanasia cases in the Netherlands. Then we describe the case in detail, the judgement of the Regional Review Committees for Termination of Life on Request and Euthanasia (RTE) and the judgement of the medical disciplinary court. Both the review committees and the disciplinary court came to the conclusion there were concerns with this case, which mainly hinged on the wording of the AED. They also addressed the lack of communication with the patient, the absence of oral confirmation of the wish to die and the fact that the euthanasia was performed without the patient being aware of this. However, the doctor was acquitted by the criminal court as the court found she had in fact met all due care criteria laid down in the act. We then describe what this judgement means for euthanasia in the Netherlands. It clarifies the power and reach of AEDs, it allows taking conversations with physicians and the testimony of the family into account when interpreting the AED. However, as a practical consequence the prosecution of this physician has led to fear among doctors about prosecution after euthanasia.
BACKGROUND: Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (EAS) in psychiatry are permitted in the Netherlands under certain legal conditions. Doctors may help patients who suffer unbearably and who have no prospect of improvement from psychiatric illnesses. Although this practice is permitted, it remains controversial, and the acceptability of EAS and the conditions under which it should be allowed are still debated. As the number of psychiatric patients requesting EAS is increasing, Dutch psychiatrists are becoming more reluctant to consider EAS.
OBJECTIVE: This study aims for a better understanding of Dutch psychiatrists' considerations for supporting or rejecting EAS for psychiatric patients.
METHODS: The data for this qualitative study were collected through 17 in-depth interviews with Dutch psychiatrists. These interviews were held from January until June 2016 as a part of the Third Evaluation of the Dutch Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act.
RESULTS: Irrespective of their own position in the debate, most Dutch psychiatrists consider reasons for and against EAS, including moral (justice and equality, professional responsibility, compassion), epistemologic (how can one ever know the suffering is without prospect), practical, and contextual (mental health care provisions) reasons.
CONCLUSIONS: The variation in views on EAS in psychiatry seems to be related to a difference in views on the nature of psychiatric diseases. Some psychiatrists stress the similarity between psychiatric and somatic diseases, whereas others stress the fundamental difference. These opposing views could be bridged by a pragmatic view, such as a 2-track approach to EAS.
Background: In the Netherlands, euthanasia or assisted suicide (EAS) is neither a right of the patient nor a duty of the physician. Beside the legal requirements, physicians can weigh their own considerations when they decide on a request for EAS.
Objective: We aim at a better understanding of the considerations that play a role when physicians decide on a request for EAS.
Methods: This was a qualitative study. We analysed 33 interviews held with general practitioners (GPs) from various regions in the Netherlands.
Results: The considerations found can be divided in three main types. (i) Perceived legal criteria, (ii) individual interpretations of the legal criteria and (iii) considerations unrelated to the legal criteria. Considerations of this 3rd type have not been mentioned so far in the literature and the debate on EAS. Examples are: the family should agree to EAS, the patient's attitude must reflect resignation, or conflicts must be resolved.
Conclusions: Our study feeds the ethical discussion on the tension that can arise between a physician's own views on death and dying, and the views and preferences of his patients. When considerations like 'no unresolved conflicts' or 'enough resignation' influence the decision to grant a request for EAS this poses questions from an ethical and professional point of view. We hypothesise that these considerations reflect GPs' views on what 'good dying' entails and we advocate further research on this topic.
Some jurisdictions that have decriminalized assisted dying (like Canada) exclude psychiatric patients on the grounds that their condition cannot be determined to be irremediable, that they are vulnerable and in need of protection, or that they cannot be determined to be competent. We review each of these claims and find that none have been sufficiently well-supported to justify the differential treatment psychiatric patients experience with respect to assisted dying. We find bans on psychiatric patients' access to this service amount to arbitrary discrimination. Proponents of banning the practice ignore or overlook alternatives to their proposal, like an assisted dying regime with additional safeguards. Some authors have further criticized assisted dying for psychiatric patients by highlighting allegedly problematic practices in those countries which allow it. We address recent evidence from the Netherlands, showing that these problems are either misrepresented or have straightforward solutions. Even if one finds such evidence troubling despite our analysis, other jurisdictions need not adopt every feature of the Dutch system.