In 2017, a Dutch doctor forcibly euthanized an elderly patient with dementia. The patient was a 74-year-old woman who had previously said she wanted to die when “the time was right” — but before she was killed, she had repeatedly said she did not want to die. Nevertheless, her nursing home doctors declared her to be “suffering intolerably” and arranged for her euthanasia. The doctor who was called in to kill her first gave her coffee with a sedative in it — without the patient’s knowledge — but she refused to drink it. The doctor then had the woman’s family physically hold her down as she fought back until the doctor could kill her.
The doctor was initially cleared of any wrongdoing by a Dutch panel. In November of 2018, however, steps were finally taken to hold the doctor accountable and launch prosecution against her. This marked the first time a doctor had been formally censured, despite at least five other cases with similarly unethical actions.
“In her living will, the woman wrote that she wanted to be euthanized ‘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,’” the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee wrote about the case. “Even if the patient had said at that moment: ‘I don’t want to die,’ the physician would have continued,” citing the doctor’s own testimony.
Now, in a stunning turn, Judge Mariette Renckens of The Hague has acquitted the doctor of all charges, saying the doctor had met “all requirements of the euthanasia legislation.” Stunningly, according to the New York Post, people attending the hearing applauded upon hearing the verdict.
Unsurprisingly, euthanasia advocates cheered the decision. “It feels good for people in the Netherlands that this is a clear view of the judges and court that it is possible to give euthanasia to a person who is not mentally competent any longer,” Steven Pleiter, of the Euthanasia Expertise Center, said, according to the Post.
But Suzanne van de Vathorst, an associate professor who specializes in ethics and end-of-life issues at Erasmus University, disagreed. “There’s a living, breathing person in front of you who is not aware that you’re performing euthanasia,” she said. “This is a very difficult thing to do and we cannot oblige doctors to do this.”
Even more disturbingly, the victim’s own daughter — who participated in the euthanasia, holding her mother down as she was killed — lauded the decision and expressed gratitude to the doctor. “The doctor freed my mother from the mental prison which she ended up in,” she said in a statement, according to the BBC.
People with mental illnesses, psychiatric issues, and dementia are increasingly being targeted for euthanasia. In the Netherlands alone, 83 people were euthanized due to mental illness in 2017. People have likewise been euthanized for having autism and addiction disorders. And it’s not difficult to see why; the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide leads to the most vulnerable people in society — the elderly, the poor, the sick, the disabled — being seen as unwanted and undeserving of life.
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