Physician-assisted suicide in psychiatry: developments in The Netherlands

R A Schoevers, F P Asmus, W Van Tilburg

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Physician-assisted suicide can now be officially and legally carried out for psychiatric patients in The Netherlands who request it, provided that criteria are met. The authors describe two recent cases of psychiatric patients whose suicides were assisted by their psychiatrist. They critically examine the guidelines for physician-assisted suicide in psychiatry. The criteria address the decision of the patient to be assisted with suicide, which must be voluntary and well considered, and the patient's desire to die, which must endure over time. The patient's suffering must be unacceptable, and the disorder incurable. The authors conclude that important aspects of psychiatric practice are not addressed in the guidelines, which were originally developed for use in somatic medicine. The assessment of treatment prognosis in psychiatry is not accurate enough to allow a final decision about incurability. Boundaries of the psychiatric therapeutic relationship are violated in physician-assisted suicide. The therapist's inability to objectively assess the patient's wish to die is overlooked. Because the general public will continue to ask for clarity on the issue of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, the authors believe that an open discussion of both ethical and professional issues is the best option.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1475-80
Number of pages6
JournalPsychiatric Services
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov-1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Depression
  • Female
  • Government Regulation
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Mentally Ill Persons
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Psychiatry
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Suicide, Assisted
  • Transference (Psychology)
  • Trust

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