Dutch court acquits doctor who sedated and euthanised dementia patient without consent

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Dutch doctors have essentially been licenced to euthanasise dementia patients.

“Euthanasia legislation in the Netherlands, as elsewhere, corrupts both medical and legal practice."

A Dutch doctor who sedated a woman with dementia and had her family hold her down so that she could be euthanised by lethal injection has been acquitted of murder.

The Court in the Hague found that the unnamed doctor had acted with due care and fulfilled the criteria of the Netherlands’ euthanasia law.

Alex Schadenburg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition warns that the ruling amounts to an expansion of Dutch euthanasia law, allowing for the killing of people with dementia and more euthanasia without explicit consent.

What’s the background?

The case involved an 80 year-old woman, who was placed in a care home after her dementia became so advanced that her husband could no longer cope with care at home. She was distressed and frightened, and after a few weeks, the doctor at the home determined that she was suffering unbearably. He concluded that she was not mentally competent, but that an earlier statement in her will that she wanted euthanasia "when I myself find it the right time" justified killing her.

Held Down And Injected With Lethal Drugs

The now retired doctor first gave the woman a sedative in a cup of coffee. The woman  tried to get up when the doctor injected the lethal drugs, but the doctor continued while the woman's family held her down.

In January 2017 The Regional Euthanasia Review Committee reprimanded the doctor, having found that consent wasn't established, and that the implementation of the euthanasia was traumatic, but subsequently cleared her.

However, in November 2018, The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) decided to prosecute the doctor, following a criminal investigation. The Prosecution did not ask that the doctor be punished – rather the trial was for the purpose of answering questions about the legality of euthanasia on dementia patients.

The case was the first time a doctor was prosecuted for euthanasia since the introduction of the Act on Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide in 2002.

What did the court say?

Delivering the verdict at a court in The Hague on Wednesday, judge Mariette Renckens said that "all requirements of the euthanasia legislation" had been met.

Judges ruled that the euthanasia had been carried out with proper care and that the doctor did not have to verify the patient’s wish to die because she was incapable of responding. In addition, the court said it supported the doctor’s decision to put a sedative in the woman’s coffee to calm her before euthanasia drugs could be administered because it had made her as comfortable as possible.

In July, SPUC reported that doctors in the Netherlands were facing immense pressure to euthanise patients, which included pressure from emotional blackmail, coercion from the relatives of patients and organisational pressure.

Corrupting medical practice

Dr Anthony McCarthy of SPUC commented:

“Euthanasia legislation in the Netherlands, as elsewhere, corrupts both medical and legal practice. Once such legislation is in place, pressure builds on vulnerable people to see their lives as no longer worth living. In such a context ‘proper care’ can, apparently, come to mean, ‘being held down and injected with lethal drugs’. Such actions have nothing to do with medicine, let alone respect for autonomy. Just as voluntary euthanasia leads ineluctably to non-voluntary, so we in Britain should be on guard against non-voluntary passive euthanasia which is quietly being justified in our own courts and hospitals and preparing the way for legislation which will permit more active killing -  no doubt again deceptively described on the death certificate of the patient."