The Dutch Regional Euthanasia Review Committees (RTEs) reviewed and reported an increasing number of cases of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (EAS) requested by older people with multiple geriatric syndromes (MGS). Knowledge of the characteristics of cases of EAS for MGS is important to facilitate societal debate and to monitor EAS practice.
To examine the accumulation of patient characteristics, geriatric syndromes, and other circumstances as reported in the case summaries of the RTEs that led to unbearable suffering associated with a request for EAS and to analyze the RTEs’ assessments of these cases of EAS.
A qualitative content analysis was conducted of all case summaries filed from January 1, 2013, to December 31, 2019, under the category MGS and published in a national open access database. These case summaries were selected by the RTEs from the total of 1605 reported cases of EAS in the category MGS.
The RTEs published 53 cases (41 [77%] female) under the category MGS. A total of 28 patients (53%) had always perceived themselves as independent, active, and socially involved. None of the patients suffered from life-threatening conditions. Multiple geriatric syndromes, such as visual impairment (34 cases [64%]), hearing loss (28 cases [53%]), pain (25 cases [47%]), and chronic tiredness (22 cases [42%]), were common. The request for EAS was often preceded by a sequence of events, especially recurrent falls (33 cases [62%]). Although physical suffering could be determined in all cases, the case descriptions found that suffering occurred on multiple dimensions, such as the loss of mobility (44 [83%]), fears (21 [40%]), dependence (23 [43%]), and social isolation (19 [36%]).
This qualitative study suggests that an accumulation of geriatric syndromes leading to a request for EAS is often intertwined with the social and existential dimension of suffering. This leads to a complex interplay of physical, psychological, and existential suffering that changes over time.