Two decades of research on euthanasia in the Netherlands have resulted into clear insights in the frequency and characteristics of euthanasia and other medical end-of-life decisions in the Netherlands. These empirical studies have contributed to the quality of the public debate, and to the regulating and public control of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. No slippery slope seems to have occurred. Physicians seem to adhere to the criteria for due care in the large majority of cases. Further, it has been shown (...) that the majority of physicians think that the euthanasia Act has improved their legal certainty and contributes to the carefulness of life-terminating acts. In 2005, eighty percent of the euthanasia cases were reported to the review committees. Thus, the transparency envisaged by the Act still does not extend to all cases. Unreported cases almost all involve the use of opioids, and are not considered to be euthanasia by physicians. More education and debate is needed to disentangle in these situations which acts should be regarded as euthanasia and which should not. Medical end-of-life decision-making is a crucial part of end-of-life care. It should therefore be given continuous attention in health care policy and medical training. Systematic periodic research is crucial for enhancing our understanding of end-of-life care in modern medicine, in which the pursuit of a good quality of dying is nowadays widely recognized as an important goal, in addition to the traditional goals such as curing diseases and prolonging life. (shrink)
BackgroundThe Netherlands is one of the few countries where euthanasia is legal under strict conditions. This study investigates whether Dutch newspaper articles use the term ‘euthanasia’ according to the legal definition and determines what arguments for and against euthanasia they contain.MethodsWe did an electronic search of seven Dutch national newspapers between January 2009 and May 2010 and conducted a content analysis.ResultsOf the 284 articles containing the term ‘euthanasia’, 24% referred to practices outside the scope of the law, mostly relating to (...) the forgoing of life-prolonging treatments and assistance in suicide by others than physicians. Of the articles with euthanasia as the main topic, 36% described euthanasia in the context of a terminally ill patient, 24% for older persons, 16% for persons with dementia, and 9% for persons with a psychiatric disorder. The most frequent arguments for euthanasia included the importance of self-determination and the fact that euthanasia contributes to a good death. The most frequent arguments opposing euthanasia were that suffering should instead be alleviated by better care, that providing euthanasia can be disturbing, and that society should protect the vulnerable.ConclusionsOf the newspaper articles, 24% uses the term ‘euthanasia’ for practices that are outside the scope of the euthanasia law. Typically, the more unusual cases are discussed. This might lead to misunderstandings between citizens and physicians. Despite the Dutch legalisation of euthanasia, the debate about its acceptability and boundaries is ongoing and both sides of the debate are clearly represented. (shrink)
The Dutch law states that a physician may perform euthanasia according to a written advance euthanasia directive when a patient is incompetent as long as all legal criteria of due care are met. This may also hold for patients with advanced dementia. We investigated the differing opinions of physicians and members of the general public on the acceptability of euthanasia in patients with advanced dementia.
BackgroundAn important principle underlying the Dutch Euthanasia Act is physicians' responsibility to alleviate patients' suffering. The Dutch Act states that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the attending physician acts in accordance with criteria of due care. These criteria concern the patient's request, the patient's suffering (unbearable and hopeless), the information provided to the patient, the presence of reasonable alternatives, consultation of another physician and the applied method of ending life. To demonstrate their compliance, the Act requires physicians (...) to report euthanasia to a review committee. We studied which arguments Dutch physicians use to substantiate their adherence to the criteria and which aspects attract review committees' attention.MethodsWe examined 158 files of reported euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide cases that were approved by the review committees. We studied the physicians' reports and the verdicts of the review committees by using a checklist.ResultsPhysicians reported that the patient's request had been well-considered because the patient was clear-headed (65%) and/or had repeated the request several times (23%). Unbearable suffering was often substantiated with physical symptoms (62%), function loss (33%), dependency (28%) or deterioration (15%). In 35%, physicians reported that there had been alternatives to relieve patients' suffering which were refused by the majority. The nature of the relationship with the consultant was sometimes unclear: the consultant was reported to have been an unknown colleague (39%), a known colleague (21%), otherwise (25%), or not clearly specified in the report (24%). Review committees relatively often scrutinized the consultation (41%) and the patient's (unbearable) suffering (32%); they had few questions about possible alternatives (1%).ConclusionDutch physicians substantiate their adherence to the criteria in a variable way with an emphasis on physical symptoms. The information they provide is in most cases sufficient to enable adequate review. Review committees' control seems to focus on (unbearable) suffering and on procedural issues. (shrink)
Modern medicine provides unprecedented opportunities in diagnostics and treatment. However, in some situations at the end of a patient’s life, many physicians refrain from using all possible measures to prolong life. We studied the incidence of different types of treatment withheld or withdrawn in 6 European countries and analyzed the main background characteristics.
Although euthanasia and assisted suicide in people with psychiatric disorders is relatively rare, the increasing incidence of EAS requests has given rise to public and political debate. This study aimed to explore support of the public and physicians for euthanasia and assisted suicide in people with psychiatric disorders and examine factors associated with acceptance and conceivability of performing EAS in these patients. A survey was distributed amongst a random sample of Dutch 2641 citizens and 3000 physicians. Acceptance and conceivability of (...) performing EAS, demographics, health status and professional characteristics were measured. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were performed. Of the general public 53% were of the opinion that people with psychiatric disorders should be eligible for EAS, 15% was opposed to this, and 32% remained neutral. Higher educational level, Dutch ethnicity, and higher urbanization level were associated with higher acceptability of EAS whilst a religious life stance and good health were associated with lower acceptability. The percentage of physicians who considered performing EAS in people with psychiatric disorders conceivable ranged between 20% amongst medical specialists and 47% amongst general practitioners. Having received EAS requests from psychiatric patients before was associated with considering performing EAS conceivable. Being female, religious, medical specialist, or psychiatrist were associated with lower conceivability. The majority of the psychiatrists were of the opinion that it is possible to establish whether a psychiatric patient’s suffering is unbearable and without prospect and whether the request is well-considered. The general public shows more support than opposition as to whether patients suffering from a psychiatric disorder should be eligible for EAS, even though one third of the respondents remained neutral. Physicians’ support depends on their specialization; 39% of psychiatrists considered performing EAS in psychiatric patients conceivable. The relatively low conceivability is possibly explained by psychiatric patients often not meeting the eligibility criteria. (shrink)
Background Studies describing physicians’ experiences with sedation at the end of life are indispensible for informed palliative care practice, but they are scarce. We describe the accounts of physicians from the USA and the Netherlands, two countries with different regulations on end-of-life decisions regarding their use of sedation.Methods Qualitative face-to-face interviews were held in 2007–2008 with 36 physicians , including primary care physicians and specialists. We applied purposive sampling and conducted constant comparative analyses.Results In both countries, the use of sedation (...) was described in diverse terms, especially in the USA, and was often experienced as emotionally challenging. Respondents stated different and sometimes multiple intentions for their use of sedation. Besides alleviating severe suffering, most Dutch respondents justified its use by stating that it does not hasten death, while most American respondents indicated that it might hasten death but that this was justifiable as long as that was not their primary intention. While many Dutch respondents indicated that they initiated open discussions about sedation proactively to inform patients about their options and to allow planning, the accounts of American respondents showed fewer and less-open discussions, mostly late in the dying process and with the patient's relatives.Conclusions The justification for sedation and the openness with which it is discussed were found to differ in the accounts of respondents from the USA and the Netherlands. Further clarification of practices and research into the effect and effectiveness of the use of sedation is recommended to enhance informed reflection and policy making. (shrink)