July 7, 2022

Dutch nurses regularly break law to help in euthanasia

New survey shows that 1 in 8 are involved


The Dutch have a law which
regulates voluntary euthanasia, but studies regularly show that many
doctors fail to observe it. Now new government-funded research has
shown that cocking a snook at the law is not a prerogative of
doctors. Nurses participate in 1 out of 8 cases of Dutch euthanasia
— which is definitely illegal. The latest Journal of Medical
Ethics sketches what nurses do and how often they participate in
hospitals, nursing homes and home care, based on a survey of more
than a thousand nurses. Other studies suggest that nurses might be
taking an even more active role. A couple claim that they collaborate
with doctors in 59% of euthanasia cases in hospitals, and administer
it by themselves in 21%.

Why do nurses get
involved, if the law clearly excludes them? It appears that some
doctors are insufficiently experienced in administering lethal drugs,
so nurses step in. As the article says, “as the moment of infusion
is important to the patient and/or relatives, nurses may feel
compelled at that very moment to take over the procedure”.

According to the survey,
Dutch nurses have few reservations about euthanasia. When a doctor
decided to grant a patient’s request to die, they supported him
nearly 90% of the time. When they declined — which happened in only
about 1 in 5 cases, 37% of the nurses disagreed with the decision or
had doubts about it.

In hospitals and nursing
homes, nurses play an important role in helping patients to decide
whether to go ahead with a request for euthanasia. Twice as often as
doctors, the patients raise the issue with them first. Why? There
were a number of reasons, but what tips the scales is that nurses
have a more personal relationship with patients than doctors. ~
Journal of Medical Ethics, April