Dutch to prosecute doctor in euthanasia case; A first since legalizing assisted suicide

Elderly (Photo: marina guimarães/Wikimedia Commons)Elderly (Photo: marina guimarães/Wikimedia Commons)

Authorities in the Netherlands will pursue a criminal case against a doctor accused of performing euthanasia on a 74-year-old incapacitated woman with dementia. Her prosecution will be the country's first against a doctor involving euthanasia since the Dutch law permitting the practice went into law over 15 years ago.

At the heart of the matter is whether or not the doctor in the April 2016 case acted ethically and within the strict parameters set forward by Dutch law. The Regional Review Committees on Euthanasia said the woman's living will "was unclear and contradictory", and thus deemed the practice as "improper," according to the prosecutor. Following the early 2017 determination, the case was then sent to the Public Prosecutor Service (OM).

The OM accuses the doctor of not verifying with the patient that she still wanted to die, even if "she had become demented." The OM also claims that the patient would frequently say she wanted to die, but also sometimes say the opposite. The prosecutor decided to take the case to criminal court to address those two issues.

"After extensive investigation, the public prosecutor also came to the conclusion that the nursing home doctor had not acted in accordance with the legal standards," the OM statement continued. The public prosecutor considers it important that the court assesses whether the doctor was entitled to rely on the living will completed by the woman."

The court case was not yet scheduled on Friday afternoon. The District Court of The Hague was assigned the case, as the nursing home is in that district.

"This case addresses important legal issues regarding the termination of life of dementia patients," the OM said in a statement. "To get these questions answered, the OM now presents this specific issue to the court."

The Act on Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide was spearheaded by former health minister Els Borst. The law was approved in 2001, and took effect in April 2002.