Dealing with requests for euthanasia: a qualitative study investigating the experience of general practitioners

Journal of Medical Ethics 34 (3):150-155 (2008)
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Abstract

Background: Caring for terminally ill patients is a meaningful task, however the patient’s suffering can be a considerable burden and cause of frustration.Objectives: The aim of this study is to describe the experiences of general practitioners in The Netherlands in dealing with a request for euthanasia from a terminally ill patient.Methods: The data, collected through in-depth interviews, were analysed according to the constant comparative method.Results: Having to face a request for euthanasia when attempting to relieve a patient’s suffering was described as a very demanding experience that GPs generally would like to avoid. Nearly half of the GPs strive to avoid euthanasia or physician assisted suicide because it was against their own personal values or because it was emotional burdening to be confronted with this issue. They explained that by being directed on promoting a peaceful dying process, or the quality of end-of-life of a patient by caring and supporting the patient and the relatives it was mainly possible to shorten patient’s suffering without “intentionally hastening a patient’s death on his request”. The other GPs explained that as sometimes the suffering of a patient could not be lessened they were open to consider a patient’s request for euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. They underlined the importance of a careful decision-making process, based on finding a balance between the necessity to shorten the patient’s suffering through euthanasia and their personal values.Conclusion: Dealing with requests for euthanasia is very challenging for GPs, although they feel committed to alleviate a patient’s suffering and to promote a peaceful death.

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