Judgment of unbearable suffering and willingness to grant a euthanasia request by Dutch general practitioners
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'Unbearable suffering' is a pivotal criterion for lawful euthanasia in the Netherlands. The due-care criterion is not defined in the law and could refer to conditions varying from physical pain to psychological forms of suffering. It is unknown, however, what doctors consider 'unbearable suffering' and for what kind of suffering they are willing to grant a euthanasia request. We conducted a vignette-study among Dutch general practitioners (n = 115, response 38%). We found high concordance between the classification of a patient's suffering as 'unbearable' and the willingness to grant a euthanasia request. Most doctors are only inclined to classify a patient's suffering as 'unbearable' when suffering is directly related to untreatable and actual pain or physical symptoms. Doctors' judgment of suffering varied strongly in cases in which physical symptoms are absent and a patient suffers from a combination of irreversible functional loss and 'existential' kinds of suffering. Although some doctors (17%) stick to the idea that physical symptoms are a necessary condition for 'unbearable suffering', a majority is willing to occasionally make an exception. When and for which case an individual doctor will make such an exception, is highly unpredictable. Various explanations for the findings are discussed.