A Dutch doctor has been acquitted for the euthanasia of an elderly dementia patient who had previously expressed a wish to die if her condition worsened.
Judges at the Hague District acquitted the unnamed doctor, who has since retired, of all charges following the death of the 74-year-old patient in 2016 after they ruled she had expressly requested euthanasia at an earlier stage of her disease.
The woman, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease four years before her death, had certified in a living will that she wished to be euthanised if her condition were to worsen significantly. The procedure was carried out with the consent and support of the women’s family.
But prosecutors argued the doctor should have checked with the patient herself at the time of her death even though she was no longer mentally competent - arguing that the Dutch laws governing euthanasia were unclear.
In the Netherlands assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal under restricted conditions when overseen by medical professionals. These include when the patient is experiencing unbearable suffering with no hope of recovery, and wishes to die.
But the judge ruled the doctor was right to follow out the wishes of the patient’s family and her living will as she was too affected by dementia to make a “coherent” request to die.
Presiding judge Mariette Renckens said "The court concludes that the doctor did not need to verify the current desire for euthanasia (of the patient).”
Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Steven Pleiter from the Dutch Centre of Expertise for Euthanasia said: “This is a clear advice of the judges that it is possible to give euthanasia to a person who is no longer mentally competent but does want euthanasia”.
He said the euthanasia of people in such an advanced stage of dementia is rare and makes up just two or three cases out of over 6,000 cases of euthanasia reported in the Netherlands each year.