Public Prosecution Service turns to Supreme Court in euthanasia case
26 september 2019 - Openbaar Ministerie
The Public Prosecution Service (OM) has asked the Procurator-General at the Supreme Court to institute cassation in the interest of the law in the case of the nursing home doctor who was recently put on trial at the District Court in The Hague in a euthanasia case. The PG responded positively to this request. This skips the step of appeal proceedings.
This means that the PG can ask the Supreme Court legal questions on which the Supreme Court will be able to give a ruling. The advantage of this procedure for the nursing home doctor is that a possible different judgment of the Supreme Court will no longer have any consequences for her, her case has thus come to a definitive end.
The OM prosecuted the 68-year-old, now retired nursing home doctor, who euthanised an incapacitated patient. On 22 April 2016, the physician performed euthanasia on a woman with dementia who had been admitted to a nursing home in The Hague. The 74-year-old woman had written an advance directive stating that she wanted euthanasia if she was to be admitted to a nursing home due to dementia and that she wanted to determine the right time. But once she was admitted, the patient gave mixed signals about her death wish. Nevertheless, in close consultation with the family, the nursing home doctor proceeded to perform euthanasia.
The public prosecutor did not demand to impose a punishment on the nursing home doctor, but he did demand the court to declare that she was found guilty. According to the prosecutor, the woman had not met all due care requirements for euthanasia. Earlier, the Regional Review Committee on Euthanasia and the Central Disciplinary College for Healthcare concluded that the doctor had not acted in accordance with the rules.
The District Court of The Hague ruled on 11 September that the doctor had to be discharged from all legal proceedings. The court considered it proven that the doctor ended the patient's life at her explicit and serious desire by administering euthanatics. Because the doctor thereby complied with all due care requirements of the "Supervision of Life Termination on Request and Assisted Suicide Act", having performed euthanasia in this case is not punishable, according to the court.
Suspension of other cases
The OM does not agree with the judgment of the court, but also realises how burdensome the case is for the nursing home doctor. Because the facts have been established, but the Public Prosecution Service wants clarity on a number of legal questions, the unusual step to the Supreme Court is now made through cassation in the interest of the law. This spares the doctor from facing appeal proceedings.
With this case, the OM foremost wants to gain clarity on how doctors should deal with euthanasia on incapacitated patients. The OM wants legal certainty to be created for doctors and patients about this important issue in euthanasia legislation and medical practice. It is also important for the social and political debate to get as much clarity as possible about the interpretation of the law.
Pending the judgment of the Supreme Court, the OM suspends the assessment of other ongoing euthanasia cases, if in those cases the same legal questions are raised as well.