Experiences and views of Dutch general practitioners regarding physician-assisted death for patients suffering from severe mental illness: a mixed methods approach

Rosalie Pronk*, Nieke P. Sindram, S. van de Vathorst, D. L. Willems

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

Background: In the Netherlands, physician-assisted death (PAD) is allowed under certain conditions. Patients who suffer from mental illnesses are not excluded from this practice. In 2018, general practitioners (GPs) performed 20 out of a total of 67 cases of EAS for psychiatric suffering Objective: More insight into GPs’ experiences and views with regard to PAD in psychiatry. Design: The data for this study were obtained through a survey amongst 500 randomly selected Dutch GPs and by in-depth interviews with 20 Dutch GPs. Setting: A survey study and in-depth interviews. Subjects: Dutch GPs. Results: 86 out of 101 GPs found it conceivable to perform EAS in case of somatic disease, and 51 out of 104 GPs found it conceivable in the case a patient suffered from a mental illness only. The main reason given for refusing an PAD request was that the criteria of due care were not met. Reasons for supporting psychiatric PAD related to responsibility, self-determination, compassion, fairness, and preventing suicide. Reasons for not supporting psychiatric PAD were related to the scope of medicine, a perceived lack of experience, uncertainties regarding the criteria of due care and life-expectancy. Conclusion: GPs are less likely to perform PAD for suffering from a mental illness, compared to somatic suffering. Some GPs apply an extra criterion of ‘life-expectancy’ in case of PAD for suffering from a mental illness. Refusing PAD based on a long life expectancy keeps open the possibility of recovery, but may also just prolong the suffering and add to the unbearableness of it.KEY POINTS Currently, there is no qualitative research on what the views are of general practitioners regarding the subject of physician-assisted death (PAD) for patients suffering from severe mental disorders. General practitioners are less likely to consider a request for physician-assisted death by a patient suffering from a psychiatric disorder, compared to somatic suffering. Reasons for supporting psychiatric PAD related to responsibility, self-determination, compassion, fairness, and preventing suicide. Reasons for not supporting psychiatric PAD were related to the scope of medicine, a perceived lack of experience, uncertainties regarding the criteria of due care and life-expectancy. Significance for the reader: Although allowed in the Netherlands, PAD in case of severe mental suffering remains a controversial topic. We need in-depth information about the actual practice of it to have an informed debate with regard to this subject.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-173
Number of pages8
JournalScandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care
Volume39
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding: This study was funded by the Dutch Right to Die Society (NVVE).

Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

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