Euthanasia has become a common way to die in the Netherlands, accounting for 4.5% of deaths, according to researchers who say requests are increasing from people who aren't terminally ill. In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country in the world that made it legal for doctors to help people die. Both euthanasia, where doctors actively kill patients, and assisted suicide, where physicians prescribe patients a lethal dose of drugs, are allowed. People must be "suffering unbearably" with no hope of relief—but their condition does not have to be fatal. The 25-year review published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine is based on physician questionnaires.
The review shows that in 1990, before it was legal, 1.7% of deaths were from euthanasia or assisted suicide. That rose to 4.5% by 2015. The vast majority—92%—had serious illness and the rest had health problems from old age, early-stage dementia or psychiatric problems, or a combination. More than a third of those who died were over 80. Requests from those who aren't terminally ill still represent a small share, but they've been increasing, lead author Dr. Agnes van der Heide of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam tells the AP. In 1990, 16% of the patients in question had an estimated life expectancy of more than a month; in 2015, it was 27%. (Read more euthanasia stories.)