Considerations by Dutch Psychiatrists Regarding Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in Psychiatry: A Qualitative Study

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.

J Clin Psychiatry 2019;80(6):19m12736

https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.19m12736