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Public Support for Physician-Assisted Death Analyzed

About a fifth of Dutch support assistance in dying for older people without a serious medical condition

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 18, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- About a fifth of the Dutch public supports physician assistance in dying for older people who wish to die but do not have a serious medical condition, according to research published online Dec. 13 in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Natasja J.H. Raijmakers, Ph.D., from University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and colleagues surveyed 1,960 random members of the Dutch public regarding attitudes about providing assistance in dying for older persons who wish to die but do not have a serious medical condition. The authors note that physician-assisted suicide has been regulated in the Netherlands since 2002 and requires that a person be suffering from a serious medical condition.

The researchers found that 26 percent agreed with a scenario where a doctor assists an older person who is tired of living and wants to die but does not have a serious medical condition. In addition, 21 percent agreed that euthanasia should be allowed for people who are tired of living but without a serious disease. Those who supported euthanasia for this group were more likely to be highly educated (odds ratio, 1.6), non-religious (odds ratio, 1.7), have little trust in physicians (odds ratio, 1.6), and prefer making their own health care decisions (odds ratio, 1.7).

"Although it is lower than the level of support for assistance in dying for patients whose suffering is rooted in a serious medical condition, our finding that a substantial minority of the general public supports physician assistance in dying for older people who are tired of living implies that this topic may need to be taken seriously in the debate about end-of-life decision making," Raijmakers and colleagues conclude.

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