Concept of unbearable suffering in context of ungranted requests for euthanasia: qualitative interviews with patients and physicians

H.R.W. Pasman, M.L. Rurup, D.F. Willems, B.D. Philipsen-Onwuteaka

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE: To obtain in-depth information about the views of patients and physicians on suffering in patients who requested euthanasia in whom the request was not granted or granted but not performed. Design In-depth interviews with a topic list. Setting Patients' homes and physicians' offices. Participants 10 patients who explicitly requested euthanasia but whose request was not granted or performed and eight physicians of these patients; and eight physicians of patients who had requested euthanasia but had died before the request had been granted or performed or had died after the request was refused by the physician or after the patient had withdrawn his or her request. Results Not all patients who requested euthanasia thought their suffering was unbearable, although they had a lasting wish to die. Patients and physicians seemed to agree about this. In cases in which patients said they suffered unbearably there was less agreement about what constitutes unbearable suffering; patients put more emphasis on psychosocial suffering, such as dependence and deterioration, whereas physicians referred more often to physical suffering. In some cases the physician thought that the suffering was not unbearable because the patient's behaviour seemed incompatible with unbearable suffering-for instance, because the patient was still reading books. Conclusions Patients do not always think that their suffering is unbearable, even if they have a lasting wish to die. Physicians seem to have a narrower perspective on unbearable suffering than patients and than case law suggests. In an attempt to solve the problem of different perspectives, physicians should take into account the different aspects of suffering as described in the literature and a framework for assessing the suffering of patients who ask for euthanasia
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Article numberb4362
JournalBritish Medical Journal
Volume339
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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