Irene Tuffrey-Wijne and colleagues have an article at BJPsych Open:Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders: investigation of 39 Dutch case reports (2012–2021)
Euthanasia review committees (Regionale Toetsingscommissies Euthanasie, RTE) scrutinise all Dutch cases of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (EAS) to review whether six legal ‘due care’ criteria are met, including ‘unbearable suffering without prospect of improvement’. There are significant complexities and ethical dilemmas if EAS requests are made by people with intellectual disabilities or autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
To describe the characteristics and circumstances of people with intellectual disabilities and/or ASD who were granted their EAS request; investigate the main causes of suffering that led to the EAS request; and examine physicians’ response to the request.
The online RTE database of 927 EAS case reports (2012–2021) was searched for patients with intellectual disabilities and/or ASD (n = 39). Inductive thematic content analysis was performed on these case reports, using the framework method.
Factors directly associated with intellectual disability and/or ASD were the sole cause of suffering described in 21% of cases and a major contributing factor in a further 42% of cases. Reasons for the EAS request included social isolation and loneliness (77%), lack of resilience or coping strategies (56%), lack of flexibility (rigid thinking or difficulty adapting to change) (44%) and oversensitivity to stimuli (26%). In one-third of cases, physicians noted there was ‘no prospect of improvement’ as ASD and intellectual disability are not treatable.
Examination of societal support for suffering associated with lifelong disability, and debates around the acceptability of these factors as reasons for granting EAS, are of international importance.