Do guidelines on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in Dutch hospitals and nursing homes reflect the law? A content analysis

Journal of Medical Ethics 38 (1):35-42 (2012)
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Abstract

To describe the content of practice guidelines on euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS) and to compare differences between settings and guidelines developed before or after enactment of the euthanasia law in 2002 by means of a content analysis. Most guidelines stated that the attending physician is responsible for the decision to grant or refuse an EAS request. Due care criteria were described in the majority of guidelines, but aspects relevant for assessing these criteria were not always described. Half of the guidelines described the role of the nurse in the performance of euthanasia. Compared with hospital guidelines, nursing home guidelines were more often stricter than the law in excluding patients with dementia (30% vs 4%) and incompetent patients (25% vs 4%). As from 2002, the guidelines were less strict in categorically excluding patients groups (32% vs 64%) and in particular incompetent patients (10% vs 29%). Healthcare institutions should accurately state the boundaries of the law, also when they prefer to set stricter boundaries for their own institution. Only then can guidelines provide adequate support for physicians and nurses in the difficult EAS decision-making process

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