Euthanasia on solely mental health grounds increased in the Netherlands during 2023

The Netherlands has published its annual data report for assisted dying in 2023. The report shows a large increase in the number of assisted deaths compared to 2022 as well as a significant increase in the number of people being euthanised because of psychological suffering alone.

In 2023, a total of 9,068 individuals died via assisted death, representing a nearly 4% increase on 2022’s raw figure of 8,720. This means that a remarkable 5.4% of all deaths in the Netherlands last year were a result of assisted suicide or euthanasia – a higher national proportion than anywhere else in the world. In 2022, it was responsible for 5.1% of all deaths in the country.

Additionally, there was a 20% increase in cases of people being euthanised because of psychological suffering, going from 115 in 2022 to 138 in 2023. This is more than double the same figure in 2019.

The number of people euthanised after being diagnosed with dementia last year increased to 328 from 288 in 2022 (a 13.8% increase).

While these increases fit with recent trends for the Netherlands, the sharp increases in people being euthanised on the grounds of either psychological suffering (such as depression) or dementia are highly concerning.

A research paper published in 2020 found more than 52% of Dutch GPs with experience of euthanising a dementia patient felt an emotional burden from the experience. Over 47% felt uncertain about the mental competence of the patient at the time of their euthanasia, and a further 42.9% said they felt pressured by the relatives of the dementia patient to euthanise them.

Belgium, which also permits euthanasia on the grounds of dementia and psychological suffering, saw 41 people with dementia were euthanised in 2023 (roughly level to 2022’s figure). However, like the Netherlands, Belgium saw a considerable spike in cases of euthanasia stemming from psychological suffering alone, going from 26 in 2022 to 48 in 2023 (an 84.6% increase).