Policy statements and practice guidelines for medical end-of-life decisions in Dutch health care institutions: Developments in the past decade
Objectives: To describe the existence of policy statements on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (EAS) and practice guidelines for all medical end-of-life decisions in Dutch health care institutions in 2005, whether the existence of practice guidelines is related to characteristics of institutions, and to compare the existence of policies in 2005 and 1994. Methods: Questionnaires were sent to 566 institutions (all Dutch hospitals, nursing homes, general psychiatric hospitals, institutions for the mentally disabled, hospices) from October 2005 through March 2006. Results: Most institutions (70%) had a written policy statement concerning EAS. EAS was usually allowed under specific conditions (75%). Institutions mainly had practice guidelines for EAS and do-not-resuscitate decisions (62% and 63%). A minority had guidelines on palliative sedation (27%), alleviation of symptoms (27%) and withdrawing or withholding treatment (33%). In general, there were more practice guidelines in 2005 than in 1994. Larger institutions and institutions with an ethics committee more often had practice guidelines. Religious affiliation of an institution did not seem to be related to the existence of guidelines. Conclusions: Since many institutions still do not have practice guidelines for medical end-of-life decisions, they should be stimulated to introduce practice guidelines, being a first step in improving the quality of the care on institutional level.