‘One in 10 family doctors have upped drugs dose to hasten death’

One in 10 Dutch family doctors has given dying patients a too-high dose of morphine or other painkiller in order to speed up their death, the Volkskrant reports on Tuesday.

The figures come from a survey of 866 family doctors for NCRV television programme Altijd Wat, the Volkskrant said.

‘If a terminally-ill patient is suffering badly, despite being given the correct medicine, then I give someone as much as I think necessary. Protocols are irrelevant on such occasions,’ one anonymous doctor is quoted as saying.

Suicide

The survey follows the case of a doctor in a Friesian village who committed suicide after health ministry inspectors launched an investigation into his handling of a terminally-ill cancer patient. He gave the patient a very high dose of morphine.

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands under strict conditions. For example, the patient must be suffering unbearable pain and the doctor must be convinced the patient is making an informed choice. The opinion of a second doctor is also required.

Professor Agnes van der Heide told the Volkskrant she was not surprised by the figures. ‘We all know doctors sometimes adapt palliative sedation procedures to end life. But the fact they are admitting to doing this by giving more medicine than in the guidelines is new,’ she said.


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