Doctors’ federation KNMG has scrapped the age limit for care for people who have chosen to end their lives by refusing to eat and drink.
Some 700 people a year die by this method in the Netherlands. Under the new guideline, meant for doctors and other caregivers, people younger than 60 can now also apply for end of life care, for instance from a hospice.
“The reason the age limit was there at all is that there had not been any cases of people under 60 who started the process of starvation and completed it to the end,” Alexander de Graeff, who chairs the committee responsible for the new guideline, told broadcaster NOS.
Hospices have been reporting more cases of younger people wanting to end their lives by starvation over the last 10 years, and this is reason enough to scrap the age limit, De Graeff said.
Hospices have said providing help to younger people who are otherwise healthy but have decided to end their lives by starvation is presenting staff with a dilemma because the process is longer and harder for younger people.
Demeter, one of 37 hospices in the Netherlands, has temporarily stopped admitting people who have stopped eating and drinking for that reason, including those over the age of 60.
The Dutch psychiatric association NVvP said it wants better cooperation between mental health services and hospices to try to ascertain if a death wish is the result of psychiatric problems. “We may be able to offer therapy which may help people to choose life after all,” chairman Niels Mulder said.
De Graeff, who works as a doctor at the Demeter hospice, said space must be made for younger people wishing to die by refusing food and drink.
“If a patient has made the considered choice to do this, we can all think what we like,” he said. “But if that is what they want then it is better to do it in an environment where they can be supported than on their own.”