Guidelines on euthanasia and pain alleviation: compliance and opinions of physicians

Health Policy. 1998 Apr;44(1):45-55. doi: 10.1016/s0168-8510(98)00005-0.


The objectives of this study are to describe: (a) the presence of; and (b) compliance with guidelines in cases of euthanasia and intensifying the alleviation of pain and symptoms; (c) the opinions of physicians about written guidelines; and (d) the relationship between meeting the requirements for prudent practice and presence of, and compliance with guidelines for euthanasia or assisted suicide (EAS). In 1990 and 1995 interviews were held with 405 physicians (general practitioners, nursing home physicians and clinical specialists). The response rate for the 2 years was 91 and 89%, respectively. The percentage of physicians who reported the existence of EAS guidelines increased from 50% in 1990 to 59% in 1995, and the compliance with these guidelines increased from 51 to 75%, respectively. Of the physicians, 17% stated that there were written guidelines for intensifying the alleviation of pain and symptoms. With regard to meeting the requirements for prudent practice, we found mostly no differences between cases of euthanasia in which EAS guidelines were present, and cases in which there were no guidelines. However, when guidelines did exist and were actually used, it seems there was a better adherence to consultation and notification, although numbers were small. The increase since 1990 in agreement with the statement that an institution should formulate a policy with regard to euthanasia, may reflect the growing awareness of the specific role of the management, and not only the physician, in this matter.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Double Effect Principle
  • Ethics
  • Euthanasia*
  • Euthanasia, Active*
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Services Research / methods
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Netherlands
  • Organizational Policy
  • Palliative Care / standards*
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Suicide, Assisted / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires