Landmark Dutch euthanasia case opens 

Landmark Dutch euthanasia case opens 

A euthanasia trial has opened in the Netherlands involving the rights of dementia patients to die who appear to have second thoughts.

The Hague district court case involves a 74-year-old woman who was given fatal doses of drugs in 2016 despite indications she might have changed her mind.

The Netherlands was the world’s first country to legalise euthanasia in 2002 but strict conditions are required.

Euthanasia has only been legal for patients suffering from “unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement”. 

Only two Dutch patients with severe dementia were helped to die last year, compared with 144 patients with early dementia and 4,000 cancer patients, according to the Dutch broadcaster NOS.

The unidentified, retired 68-year-old female doctor is accused of making insufficient efforts to determine if the patient still wished to die.

She is charged with breaching the euthanasia law and could theoretically face murder charges.

The prosecution, however, is not seeking a penal sentence against the medic and is rather looking for a better legal framework for the future.

The trial is seen as an important test case, as people live longer and dementia cases rise.

“We think the doctor has not acted carefully enough and thus passed a threshold. But at the same time, we also say that this threshold is not very clear,” said prosecution spokeswoman Marilyn Fikenscher. “She does not need to be punished.”

The patient’s daughter has strongly defended the doctor.

The medic reportedly put a sleeping drug into the patient’s coffee in the presence of her relatives. But the elderly woman woke during the procedure and the doctor had to ask her husband and daughter to hold her down while delivering the fatal injection of drugs. 

The doctor told the court she was fulfilling the patient’s euthanasia request from 2012.

The woman was suffering from “deep dementia” the doctor said and no longer understood the concepts of euthanasia and dementia.

Prosecutors said the patient’s written request was unclear and contradictory. She declared in 2012 that she “certainly did not want to be placed in an institution for demented elderly”.

But she also wrote: “I want a humane farewell for my loved ones … when I consider the time ripe.”

Judges in The Hague are expected to reach a verdict around September 9.

The debate on dementia patients’ ability to give their consent to assisted dying has become more heated since the resignation of medical ethicist Berna van Baarsen from a regional euthanasia board last year. 

She said euthanasia in advanced dementia had become difficult to defend. “It is fundamentally impossible to establish that the patient is suffering unbearably because he can no longer explain it,” van Baarsen told the newspaper Trouw.

 

 

Picture credit: Wikimedia 

 

 

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