Social Science & Medicine vol:66 issue:2 pages:376-386
In many European countries there is a public debate about the acceptability and regulation of euthanasia. In 2002, Belgium became the second country after the Netherlands to enact a law on euthanasia. Although euthanasia rarely occurs, the complexity of the clinical-ethical decision making surrounding euthanasia requests and the need for adequate support reported by caregivers, means that healthcare institutions increasingly need to consider how to responsibly handle euthanasia requests. The development of written ethics policies on euthanasia may be important to guarantee and maintain the quality of care for patients requesting euthanasia. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence, development, position, and communication of written ethics policies on euthanasia in Flemish nursing homes. Data were obtained through a cross-sectional mail survey of general directors of all nursing homes in Flanders, Belgium. Of the 737 nursing homes invited to participate, 612 (83%) completed the questionnaire. Of these, only 15% had a written ethics policy on euthanasia. Presence of an ethics committee and membership of an umbrella organization were independent predictors of whether a nursing home had such a written ethics policy. The Act on Euthanasia and euthanasia guidelines advanced by professional organizations were the most frequent reasons (76% and 56%, respectively) and reference sources (92% and 64%, respectively) for developing ethics policies on euthanasia. Development of ethics policies occurred within a multidisciplinary context. In general, Flemish nursing homes applied the Act on Euthanasia restrictively by introducing palliative procedures in addition to legal due care criteria. The policy was communicated to the consulting general practitioner and nurses in 74% and 89% of nursing homes, respectively. Although the overall prevalence of ethics policies on euthanasia was low in Flemish nursing homes, institution administrators displayed growing awareness of bearing responsibility for stimulating dialogue and reflection about how to deal with euthanasia requests within their institution.