Last year, a Dutch doctor made international headlines after she euthanized an elderly woman against her will. The patient, a 74-year-old woman with dementia, had previously expressed a desire to be euthanized “when the time is right,” but in the days leading to her death, the woman had repeatedly said that she did not want to die. Regardless, the doctors at her nursing home declared her to be “suffering intolerably,” and despite the fact that she was no longer capable of giving her consent, a doctor was called in to euthanize the woman. She was at first given coffee with a sedative in it, but refused to drink it, and then fought the procedure so fiercely that the doctor ordered her family to physically hold her down while she killed her — which they did.
At first, a Dutch panel cleared the doctor of any wrongdoing — but this year, steps were finally taken to hold the doctor accountable. The Regional Euthanasia Review Committee said that the doctor’s actions were unethical, and that the living will expressing her supposed desire to be euthanized was unclear and contradictory. Even more disturbingly, the committee found five other cases with similar ethical missteps, but this case marked the first time a doctor had been formally censured.
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Friday, Dutch prosecutors launched a criminal case against the doctor. “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 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 testimony.
Doctors who commit euthanasia, however, seem to be unhappy about the direction this case is going. “At last there is clarity,” Bert Keizer, a doctor who works for a euthanasia facility in the Netherlands, said. “But for people with a living will who want to die if they have advanced dementia, this is a negative ruling. If they can no longer indicate that they still want to die, they will have to drink the cup [of sedative] otherwise they will not receive euthanasia.”
People with psychiatric issues and dementia are increasingly being targeted for euthanasia; in the Netherlands, 83 people with mental illness were euthanized in the Netherlands alone.