The last phase of life: Who requests and who receives euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide?
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BACKGROUND: When suffering becomes unbearable for patients they might request for euthanasia. OBJECTIVE: To study which patients request for euthanasia and which requests actually resulted in euthanasia in relation with diagnosis, care setting at the end of life, and patient demographics. DESIGN: A cross-sectional study covering all Dutch health care settings. PARTICIPANTS: In 2005, of death certificates of deceased persons, a stratified sample was derived from the Netherlands central death registry. The attending physician received a written questionnaire (n = 6860; response 78%). MEASUREMENTS: If deaths were reported to have been nonsudden, the attending physician filled in a 4-page questionnaire on end-of-life decision-making. Data regarding the deceased person's age, sex, marital status, and cause of death were derived from the death certificate. RESULTS: Of patients whose death was nonsudden, 7% explicitly requested for euthanasia. In about two thirds, the request did not lead to euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide being performed, in 39% because the patient died before the request could be granted and in 38% because the physician thought the criteria for due care were not met. Factors positively associated with a patient requesting for euthanasia are (young) age, diagnosis (cancer, nervous system), place of death (home), and involvement of palliative teams and psychiatrist in care. Diagnosis and place of death are also associated with requests resulting in euthanasia. CONCLUSIONS: Only a minority of patients request euthanasia at the end of life and of these requests a majority is not granted. Careful decision-making is necessary in all requests for euthanasia.