Dutch doctor faces trial over ‘illegal’ euthanasia

The lethal injection that terminates life before the natural end

A doctor accused of adding a sedative to an elderly woman’s coffee then administering a lethal injection as her family pinned her down is to become the first medic to be prosecuted in the Netherlands for illegal euthanasia.

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service announced in a statement on Friday that it was not clear that the 74-year-old dementia sufferer wished to die by euthanasia and that the doctor had failed to establish her consent.

The doctor will be tried in the district court of The Hague in the first criminal case of its kind since euthanasia was legalised in the Netherlands under the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act 2002.

The prosecution service said it was convinced that the doctor, who has not been named and has now retired, “had not acted in accordance with legal standards”.

“This case addresses important legal issues regarding the termination of life of dementia patients,” the prosecution service said in a statement.

“Although the woman had regularly stated that she wanted to die, on other occasions she had said that she did not to want to die.

“The doctor should have checked with the woman whether she still had a death wish by discussing this with her.

“The fact that she had become demented does not alter this, because … the law also requires the doctor to verify the euthanasia request in such a situation.”

The patient had drawn up a living will years before she was admitted to a nursing home but, according to the Regional Review Committee on Euthanasia, the document “was unclear and contradictory”.

When, in 2016, the woman became incapacitated and demented the decision was taken to end her life.

She resisted the administration of lethal toxins, however, so the doctor allegedly attempted to make her drowsy with a “secret” dose of sedatives slipped into her coffee.

But the woman woke and stood up before she was pinned down by members of her family so that the doctor could give her a lethal injection.

A spokesman for the doctor told the NOS television channel that she believed she acted with due caution in the case and that she “welcomes further guidance on the question of the wishes of incapacitated patients”.

“She regrets however that she has been prosecuted for this,” the spokesman said.

The case was one of five to be referred to the prosecution service by the regional review committees. Prosecutors have dismissed two of them, and are continuing to investigate the two others.

The Netherlands was the first country since Nazi Germany to introduce euthanasia when MPs supported a Bill ostensibly to give a relatively small number of consenting adult patients with terminal and incurable diseases an alternative to unbearable and irremediable suffering.

But concern has been rising in the Netherlands at the apparent liberal interpretation of the law and incremental annual rises in the numbers of cases.

In 2017, a total of 6,585 people in the Netherlands died by euthanasia, representing about 4.4 per cent of the overall number of some 150,000 registered deaths.

The figure was an eight per cent rise the number of euthanasia deaths in 2016, which totalled 6,091 cases.

Besides those with terminal diseases, euthanasia is also being administered increasingly to people suffering from mental health problems, including at least two sex abuse victims and an alcoholic.