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Physician-assisted suicide has been legal in The Netherlands since 2002, where doctors can legally help patients die if the request is voluntary, has been well thought out and if the patient is suffering with no hope of improvement.
This recent study, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, explores to what degree the public agrees with the right for older people - who do not have a serious medical condition and who have a wish to die - to receive physician-assisted suicide.
Using survey responses of nearly 2,000 individuals in the Dutch general public, the authors wanted to get an idea of how the public feels about this issue.
The random sample of Dutch adults was taken in 2009-10 and included responses from individuals aged between 18 and 95.
The researchers used four statements and two "vignettes," one of which involved a healthy old person tired of living and the other portrayed a younger, terminally ill person.
Over half of the individuals (57%) said they agreed everyone should have a right to euthanasia, and 53% agreed everyone has the right to decide their own life and death.
Additionally, one in four (26%) agreed with the vignette that portrayed a doctor helping an elderly person who was tired of living die, and 19% said they themselves would ask for physician-assisted suicide if they were in the same situation.
When presented with the statement: "In my opinion, euthanasia should be allowed for persons who are tired of living without having a serious disease," 21% of the respondents agreed, 52% disagreed and 27% neither agreed nor disagreed.
The researchers also found that one-third of the respondents agreed that the very old should be allowed to take a pill that would effectively facilitate death, if they desired it, and a further 30% were neutral.
Individuals who supported the right of elderly people to choose to die tended to be more highly educated, lacked a religious faith and had less trust in doctors to go along with their wishes.
The authors write about how, in some cases, even the best medical care cannot provide a solution:
"Populations around the world are aging, and high-quality medical care for older people has become more important than ever. However, excellent care cannot always prevent the problem for some older people that aging coincides with such a reduced sense of purpose in life that they develop a wish to die."
Although the researchers note that public support for assisted dying among older individuals who are simply tired of living is lower than support for people who are terminally ill, there is a "significant minority" in support of this option.
They conclude that this support suggests "that this topic should be taken seriously in the debate about end-of-life care and decision-making."
Written by Marie Ellis
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
Assistance in dying for older people without a serious medical condition who have a wish to die: a national cross-sectional survey, Natasja J H Raijmakers, et al., Journal of Medical Ethics, published online 13 December 2013.
Visit our Seniors / Aging category page for the latest news on this subject.
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Ellis, Marie. "'Significant minority' of Dutch public backs euthanasia for elderly." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 16 Dec. 2013. Web.
21 Apr. 2014. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270136>
Ellis, M. (2013, December 16). "'Significant minority' of Dutch public backs euthanasia for elderly." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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