Assessment of patient decision-making capacity in the context of voluntary euthanasia for psychic suffering caused by psychiatric disorders: a qualitative study of approaches among Belgian physicians

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Objective
In Belgium, people with an incurable psychiatric disorder can file a request for euthanasia claiming unbearable psychic suffering. For the request to be accepted, it has to meet stringent legal criteria. One of the requirements is that the patient possesses decision-making capacity. The patient’s decision-making capacity is assessed by physicians.

The objective of our study is to provide insight in the assessment of decision-making capacity in the context of euthanasia for patients with psychic suffering caused by a psychiatric disorder.

Method
Twenty-two semistructured interviews with psychiatrists and neurologists were analysed with NVivo, a qualitative analysis software to code and organise transcribed data.

Results
Different views and approaches regarding decision-making capacity in the context of euthanasia emerged from the data.

Most of the physicians have some knowledge of the cognitive ability approach on decision-making capacity. According to this approach, four abilities constitute decision-making capacity: communication, understanding, appreciation and reasoning. We observed differences in the way these abilities are valued in relation to competence. Some physicians take additional elements into consideration when assessing decision-making capacity.

Physicians acquired their knowledge on the subject in many different ways. Most of the physicians reported that decision-making capacity was not part of their training.

Conclusion
We conclude that physicians assess decision-making capacity in different ways and that personal values and beliefs influence their approach. As such, a common approach in assessing the decision-making capacity of a patient among the interviewed physicians is lacking. Less arbitrariness could be obtained by consistently implementing the cognitive ability approach.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberdoi:101136/medethics-2019-105690
Pages (from-to)0:1-5
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2020

Keywords

  • Euthanasia
  • decision-making capacity
  • psychiatric disorder

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