Supreme Court advice: No punishment for mom's assisted suicide

Albert Heringa should not be punished for helping his 99-year-old mother commit suicide, according to an Advocate General of the Supreme Court who studied the case. The court in Arnhem previously ruled that Heringa should not be punished. The Advocate General advises that the ruling be upheld, NOS reports.

 In 2008 Heringa helphed hismother end her life. She was staying in a nursing home, suffered from heart failure, severe back pain and was almost blind. Her doctor said that he would not perform euthanasia on her. Heringa decided to help his mother when he found out she had been collecting pills to commit suicide. The pills she collected would not work, so he gave his mother the pills that would. She took the pills voluntarily and ended her life.

When Heringa was first prosecuted, the court in Zutphen found him guilty of assisted suicide, but did not impose a punishment. The judges found he acted out of love and charity. The Public Prosecutor appealed. A court in Arnhem acquitted Heringa last year. The court found that Heringa rightly invoked a state of emergency, a form of force majeure because the doctor refused to help. He felt morally obliged to help his mother have a painless, dignified death she wanted. According to the court, Heringa acted very carefully and transparently. He filmed everything. 

The Public Prosecutor did not agree with this ruling and appealed to the Supreme Court. According to the Public Prosecutor, Heringa coould not sufficiently motivate that there was an emergency.

The Advocate General examined the question of whether and when someone who isn't a doctor can call upon a state of emergency. She concluded that the court in Arnhem was right to rule that this was a "very exceptional situation". This ruling can not be used for general conclusions, and exceptional situations will have to be judged case by case, she added. 

According to the Advocate General, Heringa gave his mother the drugs at her express request. She took the pills completely voluntarily and ended her life. She therefore advises that Heringa not be punished. 

According to NOS, the advice of the Advocate General is always seriously considered. An Advocte General at the Supreme Court is sometimes ask for independent advice in ongoing proceedings. He or she is assisted by academic staff. While the advice is not binding, the Supreme Court ruling usually corresponds to the advice. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on this case in March.