‘We must give hope to patients asking for euthanasia’ – Dutch doctor

People wanting euthanasia for psychiatric reasons need advocates who will stand with them and renew their hope, a Dutch psychiatrist says.

Dr Frank Koerselman made the comments in a BBC feature on a 29-year-old with mental health problems who was euthanised in January in the Netherlands.

Dr Koerselman said doctors should be helping people with long-term health conditions to live positive lives – rather than assisting them in suicide.

Poison

Aurelia Brouwers died earlier this year after drinking poison given to her by a doctor – which is legal in her country.

These patients lost hope, but you can stay beside them and give them hope.

Dr Frank Koerselman

Brouwers said she was “chronically suicidal”, had anxiety, psychosis and heard voices.

However, Koerselman suggested that her desire to die might have been a sign of her illness. He challenged those doctors supportive of euthanasia for people with mental illnesses.

Lack of hope

“It is possible not to be contaminated by their lack of hope.

“These patients lost hope, but you can stay beside them and give them hope.

“And you can let them know that you will never give up on them”, he said.

Live

Dr Koerselman added that mental health problems are “not treatable like an infection, they’re like diabetes – you’ve got the disease, you will have it the rest of your life, but we, as doctors, are going to make it possible for you to live with it”.

“Like people with diabetes, psychiatric patients are also treated for years, but this is not an argument to stop treatment.”

In the Netherlands, euthanasia has been legal since 2002. In 2017 alone, there were 6,585 euthanasia deaths.

Of those, 83 were killed on the grounds of psychiatric problems.

Euthanasia illegal

In the UK, euthanasia and assisted suicide remain illegal.

For assisted suicide – where a person intentionally encourages or assists the suicide or attempted suicide of another – the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

A Bill to legalise assisted suicide was defeated in the House of Commons in 2015 by 330 votes to 118.