A doctor who performed euthanasia on a patient with severe dementia should be found guilty of murder but not given any punishment, the public prosecution department said at the doctor’s trial in The Hague on Monday.
While there are no doubts about the doctor’s good intentions, she should have been more proactive in talking to the patient about her wish to die, the public prosecutor said in court.
The case, the first of its kind in the Netherlands, centres on a 74-year-old woman who had drawn up a living will some years before her admission to the nursing home and had regularly stated that she wanted to die.
‘This is a case which impacts upon the whole country and which has divided the country,’ the prosecutor said.
The doctor said in court that she had spoken three times to her patient about her wish to die, but not about her living will because ‘she could not remember anything about it’. Her long and short-term memory was shot and she no longer recognised her husband, the doctor said.
The woman’s daughter said in a written statement in court that she had no doubt her mother wished to die. ‘The doctor freed my mother from the mental prison which she ended up in,’ the statement said.
Euthanasia for people with severe dementia is rare and last year two cases were reported. In total 144 people who were in the first stages of the disease were given euthanasia, compared to 12 a decade ago.
Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands under strict conditions. For example, the patient must be suffering unbearable pain and the doctor must be convinced the patient is making an informed choice. The opinion of a second doctor is also required.
Since the legislation was introduced in 2002, there have been a number of controversial cases, including a woman suffering severe tinnitus and a serious alcoholic.
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