Intended for healthcare professionals


Assisted suicide for depression: the slippery slope in action?

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 20 August 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:492
  1. A D Ogilvie,
  2. S G Potts

    In June this year the Dutch supreme court convicted but declined to punish a psychiatrist, Dr Boudewijn Chabot, for assisting the suicide of a physically healthy patient who was stated by the court to have “a depressive disorder in the narrow sense.”1,2 This judgment has been interpreted as “a historic ruling,”3 but outside the Netherlands it has received scant attention.4,5

    Although the prosecutor general thought “that help in assistance with suicide to a patient where there is no physical suffering and who is not dying can never be justified,” the supreme court rejected this contention. It explicitly accepted that euthanasia or assisted suicide might be justifiable for a patient with severe psychic suffering due to a depressive illness and in the absence of a physical disorder or a terminal condition.

    The court did, however, find Chabot guilty because he had not obtained a second opinion examination of the patient by another psychiatrist and there was no independent expert evidence that “an emergency situation”6 existed - the normal mitigating defence in such cases. Although the guilty verdict could …

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