Euthanasia requests in dementia cases leaves emotional burden on Dutch doctors

Over the past several years, cases of euthanasia for dementia cases have increased markedly in the Netherlands. In 2023, there were 328 such cases. This was an almost 14% increase on 2022’s figure of 288.

While the debate about the ethics of assisted dying for dementia patients continues, one aspect of the discussion often neglected is the impact these cases have on doctors.

A 2021 study (available here) conducted an analysis of doctors who have been involved in euthanasia for dementia patients. The results were concerning.

“Of 894 GPs, 423 (47.3%) completed the survey, of whom 176 (41.6%) had experience with euthanasia requests from people with dementia.” Some 52.8% reported an emotional burden due to working on such cases, with 47.2% feeling uncertain about the mental competence of the person with dementia. Additionally, 42.9% of GPs felt pressure by relatives and 34.4% felt pressure from the person with dementia to approve the euthanasia request.

Given almost half of GPs who have been involved with the euthanasia of a dementia patient or patients have had doubts about the ability of the patient to understand fully what they were requesting, the ever increasing numbers of dementia patients being euthanised becomes worrying.

The results of this survey suggest the situation is worsening when compared to a similar study inĀ 2019. It that found, “nearly one-third of all physicians experienced pressure from the patient (29%) or from the family (34%) during this process. Moreover, a majority of the general practitioners (GPs; 56%) and 40% of the elderly care physicians experience pressure to hasten the procedure”.