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Keywords:

  • euthanasia;
  • palliative care;
  • nursing;
  • qualitative research;
  • Belgium

Background.  In debates on euthanasia legalization in Belgium, the voices of nurses were scarcely heard. Yet studies have shown that nurses are involved in the caring process surrounding euthanasia. Consequently, they are in a position to offer valuable ideas about this problem. For this reason, the views of these nurses are important because of their palliative expertise and their daily confrontation with dying patients.

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to report a study of the views of palliative care nurses about euthanasia.

Methods.  A grounded theory approach was chosen, and interviews were carried out with a convenience sample of 12 palliative care nurses in Flanders (Belgium). The data were collected between December 2001 and April 2002.

Findings.  The majority of the nurses were not a priori for or against euthanasia, and their views were largely dependent on the situation. What counted was the degree of suffering and available palliative options. Depending on the situation, we noted both resistance and acceptance towards euthanasia. The underlying arguments for resistance included respect for life and belief in the capabilities of palliative care; arguments underlying acceptance included the quality of life and respect for patient autonomy. The nurses commented that working in palliative care had a considerable influence on one's opinion about euthanasia.

Conclusion.  In light of the worldwide debate on euthanasia, it is essential to know how nurses, who are confronted with terminally ill patients every day, think about it. Knowledge of these views can also contribute to a realistic and qualified view on euthanasia itself. This can be enlightening to the personal views of caregivers working in a diverse range of care settings.