Medical end-of-life decisions shorten life by four days

03/07/2007 15:00

Forty-three percent of deaths in the Netherlands in 2005 involved medical end-of-life decisions by a doctor. These decisions shortened the lives of the patients by four days on average.

Pain and symptom relief most common

Some 136 thousand people died in the Netherlands in 2005. According to a study, a medical doctor took a decision concerning end-of-life procedures in 43 percent of these deaths. These decisions were often related to relieving pain and other symptoms of the disease (nearly 60 percent). Doctors may also decide to withhold or withdraw treatment. This was done in 40 percent of deaths.
Prescribing treatment to deliberately end a patient’s life was less common ((5 percent). This includes euthanasia and assistance with suicide.

Medical end-of-life decisions, 2005

Medical end-of-life decisions, 2005

Most deaths did not occur sooner

In most cases ((52 percent) the doctors’ decisions did not have any consequences for the time of death. One in five deaths occurred less than 24 hours sooner. Three percent of deaths occurred more than one month sooner. On average the patients’ lives were shortened by four days.

Life shortening resulting from end-of life-decisions, 2005

Life shortening resulting from end-of life-decisions, 2005

The period by which the patient’s life was reduced was longest in cases where doctors prescribed or gave treatment with the deliberate intention of hastening death: eleven days on average. In cases where doctors decided to withhold or withdraw treatment, deaths occurred about one week sooner. In the case of palliative treatment, the most commonly made decision, death occurred one day earlier than it otherwise would have done.

Hastening death after medical decisions, 2005

Hastening death after medical decisions, 2005

Kees Prins, Ingeborg Deerenberg, Bregje Onwuteaka-Philipsen (Free University hospital, Amsterdam), Agnes van der Heide (Erasmus University hospital, Rotterdam)