Objective. To determine how often requests are made for euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (EAS) in the absence of severe disease and how such requests are dealt with in medical practice in The Netherlands.
Method. Retrospective interview study. Participants: 125 general practitioners (GPs), 77 nursing home physicians (NHPs), and 208 clinical specialists.
Results. In The Netherlands, each year approximately 400 people request EAS, because they are ‘weary of life’. Thirty per cent of all physicians have at some time received an explicit request for EAS in the absence of severe disease; 3% of all physicians had granted a request for EAS in such a case. Most requests for EAS to GPs in the absence of severe disease (n=29) were made by single people aged 80 years and over. While their problems were most frequently of a social nature, 79% had one or more non-severe illnesses. Most GPs refused the request; half of them proposed an alternative treatment, which the patient often refused. Nineteen people who did not receive any treatment persisted in their wish to die; the request for EAS from 5 out of 10 patients who received one or more types of treatment was withdrawn or became less explicit.
Conclusions. Most physicians in The Netherlands refuse requests for EAS in the absence of severe disease. Most patients persist in their request. In an ageing population more research is needed to provide physicians with practical interventions to prevent suicide and to make life bearable and satisfactory for elderly people who wish to die.