Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide of Persons With Dementia in the Netherlands

Dominic R Mangino, Marie E Nicolini, Raymond G De Vries, Scott Y H Kim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

20 Citations (Web of Science)

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: To describe the characteristics of persons with dementia receiving euthanasia/assisted suicide (EAS) and how the practice is regulated in the Netherlands.

DESIGNS: Qualitative directed content analysis of dementia EAS reports published by the Dutch euthanasia review committees between 2011 and October 5, 2018.

RESULTS: Seventy-five cases were reviewed: 59 concurrent requests and 16 advance requests. Fifty-three percent (40/75) were women, and 48% (36/75) had Alzheimer disease. Advance request EAS patients were younger, had dementia longer, and more frequently had personal experience with dementia. Some concurrent request EAS patients were quite impaired: 15% (9/59) were deemed incompetent by at least one physician; in 24% (14/59), patients' previous statements or current body language were used to assess competence. In 39% (29/75), patients' own physicians declined to perform EAS; in 43% (32/75), the physician performing EAS was new to them. Physicians disagreed about patients' eligibility in 21% (16/75). All advance request and 14 (25%) concurrent request patients had an advance euthanasia directive but the conditions of applicability often lacked specificity. In 5 of 16 advance request EAS and 2 of 56 concurrent request EAS cases, EAS procedure was modified (e.g., premedication). Twenty-five percent (4/16) of advance request cases did not meet legal due care criteria, in particular the "unbearable suffering" criterion.

CONCLUSIONS: Advance and concurrent request EAS cases differ in age, duration of illness, and past experience. Advance request EAS cases were complicated by ambiguous directives, patients being unaware of the EAS procedure, and physicians' difficulty assessing "unbearable suffering." Notably, some concurrent request patients were quite impaired yet deemed competent by appeals to previous statements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)466-477
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Volume28
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Keywords

  • Assisted suicide
  • euthanasia
  • clinical ethics
  • all cognitive disorders
  • dementia
  • decision-making capacity
  • ADVANCE DIRECTIVES
  • CARE
  • COMPETENCE

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