Introduction: In The Netherlands, physicians have to be convinced that the patient suffers unbearably and hopelessly before granting a request for euthanasia. The extent to which general practitioners (GPs), consulted physicians and members of the euthanasia review committees judge this criterion similarly was evaluated.
Methods: 300 GPs, 150 consultants and 27 members of review committees were sent a questionnaire with patient descriptions. Besides a “standard case” of a patient with physical suffering and limited life expectancy, the descriptions included cases in which the request was mainly rooted in psychosocial or existential suffering, such as fear of future suffering or dependency. For each case, respondents were asked whether they recognised the case from their own practice and whether they considered the suffering to be unbearable.
Results: The cases were recognisable for almost all respondents. For the “standard case” nearly all respondents were convinced that the patient suffered unbearably. For the other cases, GPs thought the suffering was unbearable less often (2–49%) than consultants (25–79%) and members of the euthanasia review committees (24–88%). In each group, the suffering of patients with early dementia and patients who were “tired of living” was least often considered to be unbearable.
Conclusions: When non-physical aspects of suffering are central in a euthanasia request, there is variance between and within GPs, consultants and members of the euthanasia committees in their judgement of the patient’s suffering. Possible explanations could be differences in their roles in the decision-making process, differences in experience with evaluating a euthanasia request, or differences in views regarding the permissibility of euthanasia.
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Funding: This paper was funded by a grant from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).
Competing interests: None.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.