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Dutch doctor acquitted in landmark euthanasia case | World news

3 min read


A doctor who slipped a sedative in her patient’s coffee before administering a lethal drug to her has been acquitted of breaking Dutch euthanasia laws in a landmark case.

Prosecutors had accused the unnamed doctor of failing to consult the 74-year-old, who had Alzheimer’s, but a judge ruled that a declaration written by the patient four years earlier had sufficed.

Applause broke out in the courtroom after the court heard that the doctor had been right to abide by the woman’s stated wishes and that there was no legal duty to verify the “current death wish” in such a case.

“We conclude that all requirements of the euthanasia legislation had been met. Therefore the suspect is acquitted of all charges,” the judge, Mariette Renckens, told the court in The Hague. “We believe that given the deeply demented condition of the patient the doctor did not need to verify her wish for euthanasia.”

The court’s verdict was seen as an important test of the Netherlands’ pioneering euthanasia laws, given that people are living longer and are more likely to develop conditions that leave them confused in their final years.

Since 2002, doctors in the Netherlands can carry out euthanasia if a patient is enduring “unbearable and endless suffering” and has requested to die “earnestly and with full conviction”.

The case, the first that has gone to trial, centred on whether the deceased woman had consented.

The patient had said in her written statement that she wanted to be euthanised rather than being put into a care home. But she had added that she wanted “to be able to decide [when to die] while still in my senses and when I think the time is right”.

Before the patient was taken into care, the doctor decided that it was appropriate to euthanise her, a decision confirmed by two separate doctors, and a date for her death was set.

On the day, the doctor had a mid-morning coffee with the patient, her husband and her adult daughter, in what was described by the medic as a “cosy” atmosphere.

During this period, the doctor put a sedative into the patient’s drink.

After half an hour, the woman felt sleepy but she did not go to sleep. A second dose of the sedative was administered via injection. The patient, although woozy, indicated her displeasure at the pain of the needle.

While she was asleep, the doctor attempted to administer a lethal dose of a different drug but the woman stirred from her sleep and stood up and had to be held down by her family to allow the final injection to be given.

The woman’s daughter supported the doctor’s decisions in a statement to the court in which she said that her actions “freed my mother from the mental prison which she ended up in”.

Prosecutors had asked judges not to sentence the doctor even if she was found guilty as she had “acted with the best intentions”.

Robert-Jan van Eenennaam, the lawyer representing the 68-year-old doctor, who was not in court, said his client would be delighted with the verdict.

He said: “The judges were very clear in their verdict that she acted in the correct manner. But my client still feels that a criminal case was not the correct way to deal with the issue. She has been through a lot these past few months.”

A spokeswoman for the prosecution, Sanne van der Harg, said: “We will now carefully study the verdict and decide at a later stage whether we will lodge an appeal.”



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