Drugs used for euthanasia: a repeated population-based mortality follow-back study in Flanders, Belgium, 1998 - 2013.
- According to guideline recommendations, barbiturates and neuromuscular relaxants are the recommended drugs for euthanasia.
- To describe changes over time in drugs used to perform euthanasia and differences in case characteristics according to the drugs used.
- Repeated population-based mortality follow-back study among physicians attending a large representative sample of deaths in 1998, 2007 and 2013 in Flanders, Belgium.
- In 1998 we identified 25 euthanasia cases (1.2% of all deaths), 142 cases in 2007 (2.0% of all deaths), and 349 cases in 2013 (4.6% of all deaths). Use of recommended drugs to perform euthanasia increased from 11.9% of euthanasia cases in 1998 to 55.3% in 2007 and 66.8% in 2013 (P<.001). In 2013, cases with recommended drugs compared to non-recommended drugs more often involved requests expressed both orally and in writing (86.8%/14.1%, P<.001), consultation with colleague physicians (93.8%/69.1%, P<.001), and administration in the presence of another physician (98.3%/54.3%, P<.001), and were more often self-labelled by physicians as euthanasia (95.5%/0.9%, P<.001) and reported to the euthanasia review committee (92.3%/3.8%, P<.001). Between 2007 and 2013, physicians consistently labelled cases in which non-recommended drugs were used as palliative sedation (72.8%/78.4%, P=.791) or alleviation of pain and symptoms (13.2%/15.0%, P>.999).
- Physicians in Flanders are increasingly using the recommended drugs for euthanasia. This suggests that guidelines and training regarding the conduct and pharmacological aspects of euthanasia have had important effects on the practice of euthanasia. However, the declining but persisting use of non-recommended drugs requires further attention. Guidelines and training regarding the conduct and pharmacological aspects of euthanasia may have had important effects on the practice of euthanasia. The declining but persisting use of non-recommended drugs requires further attention.