About 0.18% of all people over 55 in the Netherlands have a wish to end their lives without being seriously ill. That amounts to just over 10,000 people. This is the most important result from the recent published PERSPECTIVE study.
With great interest from press and other interested parties, head researcher Els van Wijngaarden presented on Thursday 30 January the report “Perspectives on elderly people with a death wish without being seriously ill: the people and the figures” to the Dutch Minister of Healthcare. Research has been conducted from various perspectives into the size, characteristics and circumstances of elderly people with a desire to die, without serious illness. More than 21,000 elderly people and 1,600 GPs participated in the study.
Different types of death wishes
People who indicated in the investigation that they had a death wish, turned out to mean different things. The study distinguishes three types of persistent death wishes:
1) People with a passive desire for death: they live with a desire for death without making plans or taking steps themselves to speed up death. In the Netherlands it is estimated that 0.47% of people aged 55 and over are concerned.
2) People with an active death wish: they make plans or take concrete steps with regard to their death wish. It is estimated that this is 0.77% of the over-55s.
3) People who describe their death wish as a wish to end their lives. This concerns 0.18% of people aged 55 and over.
Difference in perception of death wish
For all three groups, the fact that living with a death wish or a wish to end life does not necessarily mean that one wants to die immediately. The research also shows that the death wish can decrease or disappear over the years, even in old age. The group of elderly people with a desire to die without being seriously ill often appears to have physical and mental symptoms.
Many people with a death wish want a suicide tool. Not so much to take the medicine directly, but mainly as a reassurance to be able to control the end of life in the future. At the same time (the thought of) having such a tool raises new dilemmas, for example about the right time to use it and the risks. Other common needs are: assistance with suicide by a doctor, more financial room, recognition and understanding of feelings and good conversations with a counselor.
Reaction of The Dutch Right to die Society NVVE
People who are not seriously ill but who have finished their lives must be able to die with dignity. That is what the NVVE says in response to the Perspective report.