Background: The aims of this study were to obtain information about the characteristics of requests for euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (EAS) and to distinguish among different types of situations that can arise between the request and the physician's decision.
Methods: All general practitioners in 18 of the 23 Dutch general practitioner districts received a written questionnaire in which they were asked to describe the most recent request for EAS they received.
Results: A total of 3614 general practitioners responded to the questionnaire (response rate, 60%). Of all explicit requests for EAS, 44% resulted in EAS. In the other cases the patient died before the performance (13%) or finalization of the decision making (13%), the patient withdrew the request (13%), or the physician refused the request (12%). Patients' most prominent symptoms were "feeling bad," "tiredness," and "lack of appetite." The most frequently mentioned reasons for requesting EAS were "pointless suffering," "loss of dignity," and "weakness." The patients' situation met the official requirements for accepted practice best in requests that resulted in EAS and least in refused requests. A lesser degree of competence and less unbearable and hopeless suffering had the strongest associations with the refusal of a request.
Conclusions: The complexity of EAS decision making is reflected in the fact that besides granting and refusing a request, 3 other situations could be distinguished. The decisions physicians make, the reasons they have for their decisions, and the way they arrived at their decisions seem to be based on patient evaluations. Physicians report compliance with the official requirements for accepted practice.