The age limit for euthanasia requests in the Netherlands: a Delphi study among paediatric experts

Journal of Medical Ethics (forthcoming)
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Abstract

BackgroundThe Dutch Euthanasia Act applies to patients 12 years and older, which makes euthanasia for minors younger than 12 legally impossible. The issue under discussion specifically regards the capacity of minors to request euthanasia.ObjectiveGain insight in paediatric experts’ views about which criteria are important to assess capacity, from what age minors can meet those criteria, what an assessment procedure should look like and what role parents should have.MethodsA Delphi study with 16 experts who work in Children Comfort Teams in Dutch academic hospitals. The questionnaire contained statements concerning criteria for capacity and procedural criteria. Consensus was defined as ≥80% agreement.ResultsThe experts agreed that five criteria for capacity, found in a previous literature study, are all important. They agreed that some children between ages 9 and 11 could meet all the criteria. Consensus was reached for the statements that the entire medical team should be involved in the decision making and that a second independent expert must assess the case. Experts agreed that the parents’ opinion is relevant and should always be taken into account, but it need not be decisive.ConclusionThis study shows that the age limit of 12 years in the Dutch Euthanasia Act is too strong according to paediatric experts. Letting go of the age limit or lowering the age limit combined with adequate capacity assessment for minors younger than 12 are options that should be discussed further.

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Guy Widdershoven
VU University Amsterdam

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