In order to assess the suffering of patients who died at home and with whom family doctors participated in euthanasia or assisted suicide, an exploratory, descriptive, retrospective study was carried out regarding primarily the period 1986-1989. Data were collected via anonymous written inquiry among an at random sample of family doctors in North Holland (n = 521), and family doctors in the rest of the Netherlands (n = 521). With reference to the last case of euthanasia or assisted suicide they had encountered questions were included about physical and emotional suffering, signs and symptoms and life expectation. Correlations and differences were analysed by means of the chi2-test. The response to the inquiry was 67% (non-responders did not otherwise differ from responders): 228 (North Holland), 160 (rest of the Netherlands) cases could be analysed. Most patients suffered physically as well as emotionally. The most frequently mentioned aspect was 'general weakness or tiredness'. Also 'dependence or being in need of help', loss of dignity, humiliation' and 'pain' were often present to a (very) large extent. At the time the procedure was carried out the life expectation in almost two-thirds of the cases was less than 2 weeks; in 10% of the cases it was more than 3 months. For several reasons, this investigation reduces the possibilities of extrapolation. Further investigation is necessary to determine whether this picture of suffering is specific of this category of patients.