Legalised euthanasia does not mean that fewer people use palliative care, a study from Belgium has shown. Furthermore, receiving spiritual care in the final three months of life was associated with higher frequencies of euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide than receiving little or no spiritual care.

Researchers investigated almost 2,000 non-sudden deaths that occurred in Belgium from 2005 to 2006. They found that the concern that euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide might be disproportionately chosen by or for patients who do not access palliative care services was not supported.

The study indicated that use of specialist multidisciplinary palliative care was often associated with medical decisions to shorten life. However, an accompanying editorial expresses concerns about some of the conclusions that have been drawn from these results.

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Van den Block L, Deschepper R, Bilsen J et al. BMJ 2009;339:b2772.
Byock I. BMJ 2009;339:b2730.

Originally published in the September 2009 edition of MIMS Oncology & Palliative Care.