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J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101304
  • Clinical ethics
  • Paper

Assistance in dying for older people without a serious medical condition who have a wish to die: a national cross-sectional survey

Press Release
  1. Judith A C Rietjens1
  1. 1Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Medical Oncology, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  3. 3Julius Center for Health Sciences, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr Natasja J H Raijmakers, Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, PO Box 2040, Rotterdam 3000 CA, The Netherlands; n.raijmakers{at}erasmusmc.nl
  • Received 20 December 2012
  • Revised 9 October 2013
  • Accepted 6 November 2013
  • Published Online First 13 December 2013

Abstract

Background The Dutch euthanasia law regulates physician assistance in dying for patients who are suffering unbearably from a medical condition. We studied the attitudes of the Dutch population to assistance in dying for older persons who have a wish to die without the presence of a serious medical condition.

Methods A cross-sectional survey was conducted among a random sample of the Dutch public (response rate 78%, n=1960), using statements and vignettes about attitudes to assistance in dying for older persons who are tired of living.

Results A minority of 26% agreed with a vignette in which a physician warrants the request for physician-assisted suicide of an older person who is tired of living without having a serious medical condition. Furthermore, 21% agreed with the statement ‘In my opinion euthanasia should be allowed for persons who are tired of living without having a serious disease’. People supporting euthanasia for older persons who are tired of living were more likely than opponents to be highly educated (OR 1.6; 95% CI 1.1 to 2.3), to be non-religious (OR 1.7; 95% CI 1.3 to 2.3), to have little trust in physicians (OR 1.6; 95% CI 1.2 to 2.2), and to prefer to make their own healthcare decisions (OR 1.7; 95% CI 1.3 to 2.3).

Conclusions 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.