Bioethics News

Dutch psychiatric patients may get euthanasia too easily, says US study

A new study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has presented an alarming picture of physician evaluation of euthanasia requests in the Netherlands. The article, lead authored by National Institutes of Health (NIH) psychiatrist Dr. Scott Y. H. Kim, examined 66 psychiatric euthansia and assisted suicide (EAS) case summaries made available online by the Dutch regional euthanasia review committees.

The authors found that 56% of patients reported having refused at least one kind of treatment, and of those, almost half refused because of ‘lack of motivation’.

The study also confirmed the findings of previous surveys that loneliness is a key driver behind requests by those suffering from mental illness. Of the 66 patients surveyed, 37 identified  loneliness or social isolation as a motivation behind their request. One elderly patient – both mentally and physically healthy –gave no other reason for euthanasia other than loneliness after her husband had passed away. Many of the patients used what the study called a “mobile-end-of life clinic” – a doctor and nurse funded by a local euthanasia advocacy group. 

Dutch women with a psychiatric illness were more than twice as likely to be euthanased than men. Of the 66, 70% were women; 32% were 70 or older; 44% were between 50 and 70; and 24% were between 30 and 50. However, information about the patients in the reports was scanty. They contained little social history, not even their family structures. Marital status, occupation, education level, race/ethnicity, and nationality were rarely mentioned.

There was a total of 110 psychiatric EAS cases between 2011 and 2014, but the regional review committees uncovered only one patient for whom due care criteria were not met.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.