Dutch Court Exonerates Doctor Accused of Forced Euthanasia

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A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that a doctor accused of forcibly euthanizing a 74-year-old woman with dementia had fulfilled “all requirements of the euthanasia legislation.”

“Therefore, the suspect is acquitted of all charges,” said judge Mariette Renckens in her decision. The landmark 2016 case was the first of its kind since the country legalized euthanasia in 2002.

Prosecutors had argued that the unnamed female doctor, who has since retired, “acted with the best intentions” but broke Dutch euthanasia law by failing to ensure the consent of the woman, who may have changed her mind.

The doctor “did not consult her patient enough” before going through with the process at a care home in The Hague, prosecutors argued.

The doctor allegedly slipped a sedative into the coffee of the woman, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but then asked the woman’s family members to hold her down when she resisted in order to be able to administer the fatal injection that ended her life.

The woman’s resistance at the moment of the lethal injection has led some to suspect that the woman may have changed her mind at the last minute about wanting to die, insisting that her will at that moment should have been respected.

The judges, however, ruled that the doctor had acted lawfully, since not carrying the process to completion would have undermined the patient’s wish, adding that there was no legal duty to verify the patient’s “current death wish” in such a case.

“A conversation with the patient would not only have been useless, because she was no longer able to have a coherent conversation, it could have caused even greater agitation and unrest,” Judge Renckens said.

Four years before her death, the patient was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and asked in a written statement to be euthanized rather than being put into a care home for people suffering from dementia.

Nonetheless, the woman added: “I want to be able to decide (when to die) while still in my senses and when I think the time is right.”

The case is especially important as it is the first to go to trial under a 2002 law that legalized euthanasia and is considered an important test of the law in the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia, followed shortly afterwards by neighboring Belgium.

Prosecutors had requested that the judges not sentence the doctor as she had acted with “good intentions” and had “fully cooperated” with the investigation. Moreover, the doctor reportedly already faces disciplinary measures.

A total of 6,126 people were euthanized in the Netherlands in 2018.

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