The emotional impact on physicians of hastening the death of a patient

Med J Aust. 2001 Nov 19;175(10):519-22. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2001.tb143707.x.


Objective: To investigate the emotional feelings reported by physicians in The Netherlands after having performed euthanasia or other medical end-of-life decisions.

Design: Nationwide interview study in The Netherlands, November 1995 through February 1996.

Participants and setting: A random sample of 405 physicians (general practitioners, nursing home physicians, and clinical specialists).

Main outcome measures: Subsequent feelings of physicians about their most recent cases (if any) of euthanasia, assisted suicide, life-ending without an explicit request from the patient, and alleviation of pain and other symptoms with high doses of opioids.

Results: The response rate was 89%. In 52% of all cases of hastening death, physicians had feelings of comfort afterwards, which included feelings of satisfaction in 44% and of relief in 13%. Feelings of discomfort were reported in 42%, most frequently referred to as emotional (28%) or burdensome (25%). Feelings of discomfort were highest for euthanasia (75%; P<0.000). 95% of physicians were willing to perform euthanasia or assisted suicide again in similar situations. Afterwards, 5% had doubts, but none had regrets, about performing euthanasia.

Conclusions: Hastening the death of a patient evokes different feelings among physicians. Although performing euthanasia is often experienced as burdensome and emotional, granting the ultimate wish of a competent patient may also give physicians a feeling of having contributed to the quality of the dying process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Decision Making
  • Emotions*
  • Euthanasia, Active / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Suicide, Assisted / psychology*