BY Ryan McDougall | April 27 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

euthanasia

Dutch cardinal fears spike in euthanasia following Netherland court ruling

A Dutch cardinal believes there will be a spike in euthanasia cases in the Netherlands after the country's high court announced dementia patients will be euthanised without consent.

On April 22, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled that doctors could euthanise patients with severe dementia who are unable to express their wishes if they had left an advance request in writing to say they wished to die.

Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht, Netherlands, said the court’s ruling will not only make it easier for doctors to take the lives of dementia patients but would also put them under pressure to do so.

He said: “One may fear that the Supreme Court’s judgment, through making physicians perhaps more uncertain in performing euthanasia in patients with advanced dementia, will not lead in general to decrease of the number of cases of euthanasia and medically assisted suicide.

“Patients and their relatives could think on the basis of the judgment… that there is a kind of right to euthanasia in cases of advanced dementia with suffering, deemed without prospect [of recovery] and unbearable, though the Supreme Court does not say that and the law o euthanasia does not oblige a physician to perform euthanasia.”

Consequences

He continued: “Physicians of nursing homes therefore fear that they will be put under pressure by patients with dementia and their relatives to perform euthanasia as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s judgement.”

The court wished to offer clarity to potential ambiguity in its law after a doctor was prosecuted in 2016 for drugging a woman with Alzheimers after she resisted a lethal injection.

The 74-year-old had previously told her family she wanted to be euthanised but at a time where she felt it was appropriate.

Condition

However, her condition advanced significantly, meaning she could no longer clearly state when she wanted to die and so her family chose a time and date on her behalf.

When she fought against the injection, the doctor spiked her coffee with sedatives and held her down.

Prosecutors accused the doctor of ignoring a requirement of consent written into the Dutch euthanasia law of 2002, arguing the patient might have changed her mind about wishes she had expressed in writing four years before her death.

However, a lower court ruled he had not behaved illegally and he was acquitted in 2018.

Correlation

Cardinal Eijk noted that during the prosecution process, euthanasia cases dropped by 7 per cent, but after his acquittal rose by almost 4 per cent.

The cardinal also questioned whether the advance declaration could still accurately express the actual will of a patient and said the new ruling created greater uncertainty rather than clarity over the practice of euthanasia.

“In her declaration, the woman said that she wanted euthanasia, when she would have been admitted to a nursing home one day, but something in this declaration remained unclear: she determined that the euthanasia should take place at a moment that she thought she would be ready for it,” he said.

“But after having been admitted to a nursing home, she was not able to indicate whether she desired euthanasia or not,” he said.

‘Lack of clarity’

“With regard to the lack of clarity in the written euthanasia declaration, the Supreme Court judged that the physician has a certain room in interpreting the declaration,” Cardinal Eijk continued

“The court thought that the physician was right in concluding on the basis of the declaration that the woman in question desired euthanasia under the given circumstances after all, though she could not herself indicate the moment of the euthanasia anymore because of advanced dementia.”

He added, “Does the legal proceedings against the physician of the nursing home lead to the clarity, desired by the college of attorneys general? Physicians of nursing homes think that is not the case.

“Instead of laying down criteria for interpreting the written euthanasia declarations of patients with advanced dementia, the Supreme Court leaves this to the judgment of the physicians involved, by which their uncertainty only grows.”

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