Dutch doctor faces trial in landmark euthanasia case

  • Published
Vaccination stock imageImage source, Getty Creative Stock
Image caption,
The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia in 2002

A Dutch doctor has appeared in court after performing euthanasia on a patient suffering with severe dementia.

Prosecutors say the doctor did not do enough to verify consent. It is the first such case since the Netherlands legalised euthanasia in 2002.

The 74-year-old patient was suffering from Alzheimer's disease when she died in 2016.

The doctor allegedly sedated the woman and asked her family to hold her down as she administered a lethal drug.

Prosecutors say the patient showed resistance during the process. The doctor, who has not been named, says she acted cautiously.

Prosecutors say they are not seeking a prison sentence for the retired female doctor, but want to clarify how the euthanasia law applies to patients suffering from dementia.

Family members of the patient have backed the doctor.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia, but it is only permitted under strict rules set down in law.

What happened?

After being diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years before she died, the patient wrote a statement saying that she wanted to be euthanised before entering a care home, prosecutors said.

But the woman also added: "I want to be able to decide (when to die) while still in my senses and when I think the time is right," public broadcaster NOS said.

Before she was taken into care, a doctor decided that assisted suicide should be administered based on her prior statement. This was confirmed by two separate doctors independently.

When the day came to end the woman's life, a sedative was put in her coffee and she lost consciousness.

But the woman then woke up and had to be held down by her daughter and husband while the process was finished.

Why has the case ended up in court?

At the centre of the case is the question of the woman's ability to consent to ending her life despite her previous statement.

"A crucial question to this case is how long a doctor should continue consulting a patient with dementia, if the patient in an earlier stage already requested euthanasia," prosecution service spokeswoman Sanna van der Harg said.

"We do not doubt the doctor's honest intentions," she said.

"A more intensive discussion with the demented patient" could have taken place before the decision to end her life, she added.

However, the daughter of the deceased woman thanked the doctor.

"The doctor freed my mother from the mental prison which she ended up in," she said in a statement.

A verdict is expected in two weeks.

Media caption,

Euthanasia: ‘I don’t feel like I’m killing the patient’