Nursing home doctor prosecuted for euthanasia on demented woman
9 november 2018 - Openbaar Ministerie
A nursing home doctor who performed euthanasia in April 2016 on a 74-year-old demented and incapacitated woman, will be prosecuted. The Board of Procurators General has decided this on the basis of a criminal investigation. This is the first time that the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) will prosecute a doctor for euthanasia since the introduction of the Act on Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide in 2002. This case addresses important legal issues regarding the termination of life of dementia patients. To get these questions answered, the OM now presents this specific issue to the court.
Early in 2017, the Regional Review Committees on Euthanasia (RTE) concluded that the doctor had not acted carefully in this case. According to the RTE, the woman had drawn up a living will some years before her admission to the nursing home, but it was unclear and contradictory. The RTE also concluded that the doctor had overstepped a line when she had performed the euthanasia. As is common in situations where the case is considered “improper”, the RTE sent the case to the Public Prosecution Service for a criminal law assessment.
The Board concluded in September 2017 that the suspicions were such as to the doctor's careful treatment that further criminal investigation was necessary. This investigation was conducted by a public prosecutor of the Public Prosecutor's Office in The Hague, because the nursing home where the woman resided is located in this district. After extensive investigation, the public prosecutor also came to the conclusion that the nursing home doctor had not acted in accordance with the legal standards. The public prosecutor considers it important that the court assesses whether the doctor was entitled to rely on the living will completed by the woman. In addition, the OM reproaches the physician that she assumed that the woman still wanted to die without verifying this with the woman. Although the woman had regularly stated that she wanted to die, on other occasions she had said that she did not to want to die. In the opinion of the OM, the doctor should have checked with the woman whether she still had a death wish by discussing this with her. The fact that she had become demented does not alter this, because according to the Public Prosecution, the law also requires the doctor to verify the euthanasia request in such a situation. These two legal questions on the termination of life of people suffering from dementia justify the submission of this case to the criminal court judge.
It is not yet known when the case will be heard by the District Court of The Hague.
The Public Prosecution expects to give a definitive answer within a few weeks about other criminal investigations into possible punishable euthanasia. At the moment there are two more criminal investigations ongoing at the Noord-Holland Public Prosecutor’s Office. In two other euthanasia cases in which a criminal investigation was initiated, the Board recently decided to dismiss these cases.
The Board of Procurators General is the body that decides whether or not to prosecute in these types of cases, based on the Directive for the decision to prosecute in cases of active termination of life on request (euthanasia and assisted suicide).