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Original Investigation |

A Study of the First Year of the End-of-Life Clinic for Physician-Assisted Dying in the Netherlands

Marianne C. Snijdewind, MA1,2; Dick L. Willems, MD, PhD1; Luc Deliens, PhD3; Bregje D. Onwuteaka-Philipsen, PhD2; Kenneth Chambaere, PhD3
[+] Author Affiliations
1Section of Medical Ethics, Department of General Practice, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
2Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VUmc Expertise Center for Palliative Care, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
3End-of-Life Care Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and Ghent University, Brussels, Belgium
JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(10):1633-1640. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.3978.
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Importance  Right to Die NL, an organization in the Netherlands that advocates for the option of euthanasia, founded the End-of-Life Clinic in 2012 to provide euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide for patients who meet all legal requirements but whose regular physicians rejected their request. Many patients whose requests are rejected have less common situations, such as a psychiatric or psychological condition, dementia, or being tired of living.

Objective  To study outcomes of requests for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide received by the clinic and factors associated with granting or rejecting requests.

Design  Analysis of application forms and registration files from March 1, 2012, to March 1, 2013, the clinic’s first year of operation, for 645 patients who applied to the clinic with a request for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide and whose cases were concluded during the study period.

Main Outcomes and Measures  A request could be granted, rejected, or withdrawn or the patient could have died before a final decision was reached. We analyzed bivariate and multivariate associations with medical conditions, type of suffering, and sociodemographic variables.

Results  Of the 645 requests made by patients, 162 requests (25.1%) were granted, 300 requests (46.5%) were refused, 124 patients (19.2%) died before the request could be assessed, and 59 patients (9.1%) withdrew their requests. Patients with a somatic condition (113 of 344 [32.8%]) or with cognitive decline (21 of 56 [37.5%]) had the highest percentage of granted requests. Patients with a psychological condition had the smallest percentage of granted requests. Six (5.0%) of 121 requests from patients with a psychological condition were granted, as were 11 (27.5%) of 40 requests from patients who were tired of living.

Conclusions and Relevance  Physicians in the Netherlands have more reservations about less common reasons that patients request euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, such as psychological conditions and being tired of living, than the medical staff working for the End-of-Life Clinic. The physicians and nurses employed by the clinic, however, often confirmed the assessment of the physician who previously cared for the patient; they rejected nearly half of the requests for euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, possibly because the legal due care criteria had not been met.

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