Objective: to obtain insight into the relationship between euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide (EAS) and the age of patients to whom it was administered.
Design: a descriptive retrospective study.
Sample: cases of EAS reported between 1984 and 1993, in the province of North Holland in The Netherlands. These data are not available for the rest of The Netherlands.
Results: between 1984 and 1993, 1707 cases of EAS were reported to the Public Prosecutor in North Holland. The average age of the female patients to whom EAS was administered was 65 years; for men the average age was 62. For both men and women EAS was most frequently performed in the age-categories of 60-69 years and 70-79 years. Cancer and cerebrovascular accidents were positively related to age, while AIDS and multiple sclerosis were negatively related to age. In all physician reports the number of cases of EAS increased until the age-category of 70-79 years, after which EAS was less frequently performed by general practitioners, but more frequently by nursing-home physicians. In the age-groups of 70-79 years and 80 years and over the number of cases of EAS increased over the years. There were differences in the distribution of age between the patients to whom EAS was administered and all deaths. In the younger age-groups EAS was performed relatively more frequently, while the lowest percentage was found in the group aged 85 years and over.
Conclusion: the suggestion that EAS is mainly performed among elderly people in The Netherlands is not supported by our study.