Demoralisation, depression and desire for death: problems with the Dutch guidelines for euthanasia of the mentally ill

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2000 Apr;34(2):325-33. doi: 10.1080/j.1440-1614.2000.00692.x.


Objective: Given the recent publication of Dutch guidelines for euthanasia of the mentally ill, our aim in this paper is to review the clinical role of the psychiatrist in assessing patients who seek euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.

Method: Three areas are examined that are informative of the role of the psychiatrist in assessing patients who desire death: recent surveys of psychiatrists' attitudes, empirical and clinical studies, and treatment issues.

Results: Demoralisation and depression emerge as pertinent clinical issues worthy of psychiatric intervention. The role of the psychiatrist is complex and includes issues of assessment, systems, countertransference and treatment.

Conclusions: Dutch guidelines for physician-assisted suicide in the mentally ill generate serious concern given the uncertainty of prognosis, potential range and variability of outcome of treatments of suicidality and the boundary violations that are involved for the psychiatrist. The guidelines have the potential to dangerously alter the practice of psychiatry and should be condemned.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Euthanasia / psychology*
  • Health Personnel
  • Helsinki Declaration
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Health Services / standards*
  • Netherlands
  • Psychiatry / ethics*
  • Suicide, Assisted / psychology*