A Dutch woman suffering from severe senile dementia has become the first person in such a condition to have her life ended by doctors in the Netherlands.
The case is controversial because it involves a patient who was not mentally capable to give her consent at the time that doctors ended her life.
The 64-year-old unnamed woman had been a long term supporter of euthanasia and had previously expressed her wish to die in a written statement.
But as the disease progressed she became increasingly unable to reiterate her instructions and give her consent, Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reported.
As a result the decision to end her life was made by a medical committee, and the woman died in March.
In Britain Baroness Warnock has previously said that elderly people suffering from dementia are “wasting people’s lives”, “wasting the resources of the National Health Service” and should be allowed to die.
Constance de Vries, a doctor who acts as a second opinion on such cases, warned that the case has serious implications for Dutch euthanasia law because it means that doctors can still end the life of a patient even if the patient is no longer able to give their consent.
Currently, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands if a patient can convince two doctors that they are making an informed choice in the face of ‘unbearable suffering’.
Earlier this year a leaked report revealed that 21 patients with early stage dementia, including Alzheimer’s, were killed by lethal injection in the Netherlands.
It was the first time dementia patients – albeit in the early stages of the condition – had been included in euthanasia statistics. It caused concern amongst critics who say the threshold for patients doctors will help to die is widening.
Phyllis Bowman of Right to Life, a British pro-life group, expressed concern at the figures saying: “I think the figures are frightening and we have every reason to be afraid.
“That people are putting themselves forward for death so early suggests that there has been quite a bit of pressure put on them.”
None of the cases are believed to have involved an illegal act, and each of the patients was thought to be capable of giving their consent.