Dutch euthanasia study finds many “patients” have mental health problems

A recent study of people requesting euthanasia at a new clinic in the Netherlands appears to show that many of the people having their lives ended have some form of psychological or psychiatric problem.

Medical syringe isolated over a white background.

These findings are similar to those from a Belgian study which we blogged about just last week. This should be a huge alarm bell for those seeking to introduce assisted suicide in the UK, because it shows how easily medically-endorsed killing can become routine and perhaps even “expected” of some members of society.

A quarter of all those who requested euthanasia at the clinic were allowed to have it (162 out of 645). A little under half (300) were refused; 124 (19.2%) died while their request was being considered. Strikingly, 59 patients (9.1%) actually withdrew their request.

The subsets of patients most likely to have a request for euthanasia granted were those suffering from cognitive decline (21 out of 56 patients, 37.5%) or from a “somatic condition”, i.e. an illness affecting mental health with no clear physical cause (113 patients out of 344, 32.8%). Only 5% of requests from individuals with psychological conditions were granted (6 out of 121), but 27.5% (11 out of 40) of requests from patients who claimed to simply be “tired of living”.

The study’s main conclusion was that this particular clinic was more likely to allow euthanasia for reasons that are less commonly given throughout all of the Netherlands, and that it was turning down quite large numbers of requests for euthanasia. This seems to be missing the point rather spectacularly. What ought to leap out from this data is the fact that in the Netherlands euthanasia is routinely being given not only to people with severe mental health problems and people who are in cognitive decline – perhaps with dementia or Alzheimer’s – but also to people who say they are simply “tired of living”. This is particularly concerning given the Belgian research already mentioned, which showed that many people being given euthanasia had frail mental health which called into question their capacity to give proper consent to being killed, even if we accept the dubious premise that ending patients’ lives is an appropriate response to suffering.

Cancer patients, many of them not terminally ill, also make up a large proportion of those accessing euthanasia. What might this say about the quality of their care? We know that the US state of Oregon, which has legal assisted suicide, has a very different and much less sophisticated model of palliative care than the UK, as Baroness Ilora Finlay, a Professor of Palliative Medicine, makes clear in this article. This severe weakness in the provision of alternatives at the end of life complicates the simplistic presentation of Oregon as the poster-child for the current British assisted suicide proposal – Rob Marris’ Assisted Dying (No2) Bill, which will be debated in the House of Commons on September 11th.

Let’s not repeat the terrible mistakes made in the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon. Let’s say no to assisted suicide.


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