What About Us? Experiences of Relatives Regarding Physician-Assisted Death for Patients Suffering from Mental Illness: A Qualitative Study

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Physician-assisted death (PAD) for patients suffering from mental illness is legally permitted in the Netherlands. Although patients’ relatives are not entrusted with a legal role, former research revealed that physicians take into account the patient’s social context and their well-being, in deciding whether or not to grant the request. However, these studies focussed on relatives’ experiences in the context of PAD concerning patients with somatic illness. To date, nothing is known on their experiences in the context of PAD concerning the mentally ill. We studied the experiences of relatives with regard to a PAD request by patients suffering from mental illness. The data for this study were collected through 12 interviews with relatives of patients who have or had a PAD request because of a mental illness. We show that relatives are ambivalent regarding the patient’s request for PAD and the following trajectory. Their ambivalence is characterised by their understanding of the wish to die and at the same time hoping that the patient would make another choice. Respondents’ experiences regarding the process of the PAD request varied, from positive (‘intimate’) to negative (‘extremely hard’). Some indicated that they wished to be more involved as they believe the road towards PAD should be a joint trajectory. To leave them out during such an important event is not only painful, but also harmful to the relative as it could potentially complicate their grieving process. Professional support during or after the PAD process was wanted by some, but not by all.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237–251
Number of pages15
JournalCulture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Volume47
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the Dutch Dying with Dignity Foundation (NVVE). The NVVE had no part in the design, data collection, interpretation or reporting of this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

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