Dutch doctor charged in euthanasia case
‘The patient’s declaration has to be clear, so doctors know when euthanasia can be applied’
DUTCH officials are set to prosecute a doctor for euthanising an elderly woman with dementia, the first time such a person has been charged since the Netherlands legalised the practice.
Prosecutors claimed yesterday that the doctor “had not acted carefully” and had “overstepped a line” by her action. Officials began investigating in September, when they allegedly found the doctor had drugged the 74-year-old patient’s coffee and then had family members hold her down while she allegedly delivered the fatal injection.
The doctor said she was fulfilling the patient’s earlier euthanasia request and that as the patient was not competent because of her dementia, nothing she said during the procedure was relevant. But prosecutors argued that the patient’s written euthanasia request was “unclear and contradictory”.
An earlier report by one of the Netherlands’ euthanasia review committees stated: “In her living will, the woman wrote that she wanted to be euthanised ‘whenever I think the time is right’. But after being asked several times in the nursing home whether she wanted to die, she said, ‘Not just now, it’s not so bad yet.’ ” Citing the doctor’s own testimony, it claimed: “Even if the patient had said at that moment: ‘I don’t want to die,’ the physician would have continued.”
Prosecutors said yesterday that the doctor should have verified with the patient whether or not she still wanted to die and that “the fact that she had become demented does not alter this”.
Johan Legemaate, a professor of health law at the University of Amsterdam, said: “The patient’s declaration has to be clear, so doctors know when euthanasia can be applied. But should this include a situation where doctors are drugging patients secretly? It’s for the court to decide whether this doctor acted within the required limits.”
Euthanasia was legalised in the Netherlands in 2002.