The role of nurses in euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in The Netherlands

Journal of Medical Ethics 34 (4):254-258 (2008)
Abstract
Background: Issues concerning legislation and regulation with respect to the role of nurses in euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide gave the Minister for Health reason to commission a study of the role of nurses in medical end-of-life decisions in hospitals, home care and nursing homes. Aim: This paper reports the findings of a study of the role of nurses in euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, conducted as part of a study of the role of nurses in medical end-of-life decisions. The findings for hospitals, home care and nursing homes are described and compared. Method: A questionnaire was sent to 1509 nurses, employed in 73 hospitals, 55 home care organisations and 63 nursing homes. 1179 responses (78.1%) were suitable for analysis. The questionnaire was pilot-tested among 106 nurses, with a response rate of 85%. Results: In 37.0% of cases, the nurse was the first person with whom patients discussed their request for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Consultation between physicians and nurses during the decision-making process took place quite often in hospitals (78.8%) and nursing homes (81.3%) and less frequently in home care situations (41.2%). In some cases (12.2%), nurses administered the euthanatics. Conclusions: The results show substantial differences between the intramural sector (hospitals and nursing homes) and the extramural sector (home care), which are probably linked to the organisational structure of the institutions. Consultation between physicians and nurses during the decision-making process needs improvement, particularly in home care. Some nurses had administered euthanatics, although this task is by law exclusively reserved to physicians
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