Dutch doc­tor faces first eu­thana­sia pros­e­cu­tion

Tempo - - World -

THE HAGUE (AFP) – Dutch au­thor­i­ties are prose­cut­ing a doc­tor for eu­th­a­niz­ing an el­derly woman with de­men­tia in the first case of its kind since the prac­tice was le­gal­ized in 2002, of­fi­cials said Fri­day.

The fe­male doc­tor, who was not named, al­legedly put a sleep­ing drug into the 74-year-old woman’s cof­fee and had to ask her fam­ily to hold her down when she be­gan to strug­gle.

The Nether­lands and neigh­bor­ing Bel­gium be­came the first coun­tries in the world to le­galie so-called mercy killing, but it can only be car­ried out by doc­tors and un­der very strict con­di­tions.

Pros­e­cu­tors said the doc­tor in the case “over­stepped the mark” with the nurs­ing home pa­tient, who had writ­ten a will say­ing she wanted to die but did not clearly say so at the time of her death.

“A nurs­ing home doc­tor who per­formed eu­thana­sia in April 2016 on a 74-year-old de­mented and in­ca­pac­i­tated woman will be pros­e­cuted,” the Nether­lands pros­e­cu­tion ser­vice said in a state­ment.

“This is the first time that the Dutch Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tion Ser­vice will pros­e­cute a doc­tor for eu­thana­sia since the in­tro­duc­tion of the Act on Ter­mi­na­tion of Life on Re­quest and As­sisted Sui­cide in 2002.”

The doc­tor be­lieved she had acted cau­tiously and “wel­comes fur­ther guid­ance on the ques­tion of the wishes of in­ca­pac­i­tated pa­tients,” her spokesman was quoted as say­ing by the NOS pub­lic tele­vi­sion chan­nel.

“She re­grets how­ever that she has been pros­e­cuted for this.”


A re­gional eu­thana­sia re­view board had said in a 2016 re­port that the doc­tor had put the seda­tive dormicum into the woman’s cof­fee to en­sure she was peace­ful while the fa­tal drug was ad­min­is­tered a few min­utes later.

But it found that the el­derly woman stood up while the eu­thana­sia drug was be­ing in­jected, adding that “the pa­tient’s fam­ily then helped to re­strain the pa­tient and the doc­tor quickly ad­min­is­tered the rest”.

Pros­e­cu­tors said Fri­day that the woman’s will, drawn up sev­eral years be­fore her ad­mis­sion to the nurs­ing home, 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 want to die,” it added.

“The doc­tor should have checked with the woman whether she still had a death wish by dis­cussing this with her.”

Pros­e­cu­tors added that the case “ad­dresses im­por­tant le­gal is­sues re­gard­ing the ter­mi­na­tion of life of de­men­tia pa­tients. To get th­ese ques­tions an­swered, the pros­e­cu­tion ser­vice now presents this spe­cific is­sue to the court.”

In 2017, some 6,585 peo­ple chose eu­thana­sia to end their own lives in the Nether­lands, about 4.4 per­cent of the to­tal num­ber of more than 150,000 reg­is­tered deaths in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to the Re­gional Eu­thana­sia Re­view Com­mit­tee which strictly mon­i­tors all cases.

Twelve cases were iden­ti­fied as hav­ing pos­si­ble con­cerns by the com­mit­tee, of which two are now un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by pros­e­cu­tors.

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