A doctor has been charged with unlawfully ending a patient’s life in the first case of its kind since euthanasia was legalised in the Netherlands in 2002.
The nursing home doctor, who remains anonymous, administered a lethal injection to a 74-year-old dementia patient despite the fact that her will was “unclear and contradictory”.
Prosecutors have said that the doctor had “not acted carefully” and “overstepped a line”.
In 2016, the doctor slipped sedatives into the patient’s coffee before asking their family members to help pin her down.
It was reported that whilst the 74-year-old was receiving the lethal injection, she woke up and began fighting with the doctor.
Though the dementia-sufferer had earlier expressed a desire for euthanasia when ‘the time was right’, in the days before she was killed, she had said she did not want to die.
The patient often exhibited signs of fear and anger and senior doctors at the nursing home agreed that she was no longer in a position where she could knowingly make the decision to end her own life.
Initially a review committee cleared the doctor saying that she had “acted in good faith”.
But after the case was re-assessed, the Dutch Medical Complaints Board found that the written will of the patient was contradictory and it should never have been read as a voluntary and well-considered wish to die.
Prosecutors, citing the doctor’s own testimony, said: “Even if the patient had said at that moment: ‘I don’t want to die’, the physician would have continued”.
Last year, almost 7,000 people had their lives ended by euthanasia in the Netherlands – more than four per cent of all deaths in the country.
Dutch prosecutors are also examining two other criminal investigations into doctors who have conducted euthanasia in questionable circumstances.
In Belgium, three doctors are currently facing trial, accused of certifying a 38-year-old woman as ‘autistic’ in order to conduct euthanasia.
In the UK, a vote in 2015 saw 330 MPs vote against a bill to legalise euthanasia, whilst only 118 were in favour.
MPs highlighted the difficulty of putting in place any genuine safeguards.
Mark Atkinson, former Chief Executive of disability charity Scope, said that maintaining the current law offers “crucial protection to the lives of disabled and other vulnerable people, who could feel they are a burden to society”.