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from conception to natural death


Dutch doctor who euthanised woman who "didn't want to die" faces prosecution

12 November 2018

The doctor had relatives hold the woman down to administer the lethal injection.

But is it just a means of setting a precedent?

The story of a nursing home doctor who secretly drugged a 74 year old dementia patient's coffee before getting her relatives to hold her down while she administered a lethal injection caused horror around the world when it was reported last year. 

That horror intensified when a regional review committee cleared the unnamed doctor, saying that she had "acted in good faith". The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) seems to have shown little interest in taking criminal action against doctors, dropping a case only last month against a doctor who euthanised a semi-conscious, severely impaired patient without written consent.

Following a criminal investigation, the department has now announced that it will prosecute the doctor involved. Tellingly, this is the first time a doctor will be prosecuted for euthanasia since the introduction of the Act on Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide in 2002.

Did she want to die?  

According to a statement from the OM, prosecutors agreed with the conclusion from the Regional Review Committee on Euthanasia (RTE) that the doctor had 'overstepped the mark' in performing euthanasia without asking the woman if she still wanted to die.

The RTE had found that the woman had drawn up a living will some years before her admission to the nursing home, but it was unclear and contradictory.

"Although the woman had regularly stated that she wanted to die, on other occasions she had said that she did not to want to die," the statement goes on. "In the opinion of the OM, the doctor should have checked with the woman whether she still had a death wish by discussing this with her."

What will this prosecution do?

"This case addresses important legal issues regarding the termination of life of dementia patients. To get these questions answered, the OM now presents this specific issue to the court," the statement says.

However, Alex Schadenburg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition cautions that the case might not be about punishing the doctor and getting justice for the victim. He points out that Jacob Kohnstamm, who was the chair of the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee and approved the doctor's actions, has gone on the record as wanting the case heard by the court to establish a precedent concerning cases when a doctor lethally injects a person with dementia.

"It is common for the Netherlands court to hear a case, not with the intention of punishing the person who broke the law but rather to establish a precedent to determine what the court considers acceptable or unacceptable," he says.

Whether the court case does result in the prosecution of a doctor who deliberately killed an incapacitated woman who was trying to fight her off, or turns out to be a mechanism for bypassing consent, it should at least draw attention to the horrifying consequences to the vulnerable of the Netherlands' euthanasia regime.

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Comments (1)

  • Sue Jamieson

    15 November 2018, 7:04pm

    I am appalled that a women just 4 years older than me should be treated like a dog or cat which had passed its best to be given a lethal injection without even asking her how she felt about the idea. if someone suggested that I be euthanased I would think of it as highly insulting. it reminds me of when I became pregnant. the doctor asked me, 'Do you want this baby?' There should be no excuses to abort a baby. Likewise, there should be no excuses for euthanasia for older people.// There must be ways of keeping people with dementia happy and loved and not threatened with euthanasia.

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