Moral values of Dutch physicians in relation to requests for euthanasia: a qualitative study

Marjanne van Zwol, Fijgje de Boer, Natalie Evans, Guy Widdershoven

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Background: In the Netherlands, patients have the legal right to make a request for euthanasia to their physician. However, it is not clear what it means in a moral sense for a physician to receive a request for euthanasia. The aim of this study is to explore the moral values of physicians regarding requests for euthanasia. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine primary healthcare physicians involved in decision-making about euthanasia. The data were inductively analyzed which lead to the emergence of themes, one of which was about values regarding end-of-life decisions. Results: Four clusters of values related to euthanasia requests are described: values related to 1) the patient; 2) the family; 3) the physician; and 4) life and death. The data show that the participants value patient autonomy as a necessary but not sufficient condition for meeting a euthanasia request. A good relationship with the patient and the family are important. For the physician, the values physician autonomy, responsibility, understanding the patient and relief of suffering play a role. Life as an intrinsic good and a peaceful death are also important values. Conclusion: This study shows that next to patient autonomy and the relationship with the patient and the family, it is important for the participants to act in accordance with their professional values and to do justice to values related to life and death. The awareness of going against the intrinsic value of life is crucial, even if performing euthanasia may result in a feeling of relief or gratitude afterwards.
Original languageEnglish
Article number94
JournalBMC medical ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Autonomy
  • Euthanasia
  • Medical ethics
  • Primary health care
  • Value of life

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