Doctor acquitted of murder in euthanasia for dementia patient

Gavel with lady justice in the background
Gavel with lady justice in the backgroundPhoto: SergPoznanskiy/DepositPhotos

Update, 3:00 p.m., 11 September 2019: This story was updated with statements from the court.

The court in The Hague acquitted a nursing home doctor of patient's murder. The now-retired doctor was careful and followed the euthanasia protocol established in Dutch law when she performed euthanasia on a woman in the advanced stages of dementia, the court said in a statement.

This case revolved around the death of a 74-year-old woman with advanced dementia. While she was still lucid, the woman made a declaration that she did not want to end up in a nursing home and wanted euthanasia when she considered it was the "right time". In addition to the ambiguity of the "right time", the woman also gave alternating signals once in the nursing home. "At certain times she indicated that she did not want to die", the Prosecutor said when the trial started. The doctor eventually performed euthanasia "in close consultation with the family", and after two independent doctors determined that she was suffering unbearably.

According to the Public Prosecutor, there was grounds for charging the doctor with murder because she should have spoken further with the patient about the termination of her life. As the doctor did not do so, the due care requirements in the law were not met, the Prosecutor argued.

The court disagreed that the due care requirements were not met and acquitted the doctor. "Midway through 2015 the patient deteriorated rapidly," a statement from the court said, adding that by January 2016 she "no longer knew what the word 'euthanasia' meant." The doctor consulted with the patient's husband about the woman's statement declaring she wished to end her life, signed years earlier.

The doctor spent more time with the patient, and further consulted with the woman's daughter, medical team, and the nursing home staff where the patient resided. "The image that emerged from all of the observations and conversations was that of a deeply demented, incapable lady who had undergone and continued to undergo a huge shock to her person. Medications to relieve her condition didn't help," the court said. 


Further consultation with medical personnel led to the act of ending the patient's life on April 22, 2016. Three years later, a disciplinary panel investing the case determined it did not meet the strict criteria for lawful euthanasia in the Netherlands.

The Prosecutor demanded no punishment against the doctor, expressing more concern over a possible lack of clarity in the Dutch law concerning patient's who lose mental acuity. "The norm that was violated was unclear and the doctor can only be blamed to a limited extent", the Prosecutor said during the trial.

This was the first ever case in the Netherlands in which a doctor was prosecuted for euthanasia since the introduction of the Termination of Life on Request and Assistance with Suicide Act in 2002.