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Depression is a likely issue in patients treated for mental health asking for euthanasia

Patients with mental health problems in Belgium who request help to die on the grounds of ‘unbearable suffering’ are most likely to be living with depression and personality disorders, a study suggests.

Patients who requested to die were followed up until the end of 2012

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To find out if there were any discernible patterns in requests for euthanasia – which has been legal in Belgium since 2002 – the researchers tracked requests for help to die made by patients receiving treatment for mental health problems between 2007 and 2011. Patients were followed up until the end of 2012.

During this time, 100 people asked for euthanasia on the grounds of unbearable suffering associated with mental health problems. Of these, 90 had more than one mental health issue. Depression was the most frequent diagnosis in 58 patients, followed by personality disorder in 50 patients.

By 2012, 43 of the patients had died. Thirty-five requests for euthanasia were carried out, six patients took their own lives, one died as a result of palliative sedation and another died of anorexia nervosa.

Researchers said guidelines are needed on how best to deal with requests for help to die from patients with mental illness.

‘It is essential to develop such guidelines and translate them into clear and detailed protocols that can be applied in practice,’ they said.

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