Euthanasia and other medical decisions concerning the end of life

Lancet. 1991 Sep 14;338(8768):669-74. doi: 10.1016/0140-6736(91)91241-l.


This article presents the first results of the Dutch nationwide study on euthanasia and other medical decisions concerning the end of life (MDEL). The study was done at the request of the Dutch government in preparation for a discussion about legislation on euthanasia. Three studies were undertaken: detailed interviews with 405 physicians, the mailing of questionnaires to the physicians of a sample of 7000 deceased persons, and the collecting of information about 2250 deaths by a prospective survey among the respondents to the interviews. The alleviation of pain and symptoms with such high dosages of opioids that the patient's life might be shortened was the most important MDEL in 17.5% of all deaths. In another 17.5% a non-treatment decision was the most important MDEL. Euthanasia by administering lethal drugs at the patient's request seems to have been done in 1.8% of all deaths. Since MDEL were taken in 38% of all deaths (and in 54% of all non-acute deaths) we conclude that these decisions are common medical practice and should get more attention in research, teaching, and public debate.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Decision Making*
  • Euthanasia* / psychology
  • Euthanasia* / statistics & numerical data
  • Euthanasia, Passive / psychology
  • Euthanasia, Passive / statistics & numerical data
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Palliative Care / psychology
  • Patient Participation
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sampling Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires