International

Dutch launch first euthanasia prosecution

Dutch authorities are prosecuting a doctor for euthanising an elderly woman with dementia in the first case of its kind since the practice was legalised in 2002, officials said Friday.

The Netherlands became, along with Belgium, the first country in the world to legalise so-called mercy killing, but it can only be carried out by doctors and under very strict conditions
The Netherlands became, along with Belgium, the first country in the world to legalise so-called mercy killing, but it can only be carried out by doctors and under very strict conditions (AFP)

Dutch authorities are prosecuting a doctor for euthanising an elderly woman with dementia in the first case of its kind since the practice was legalised in 2002, officials said Friday.

Public prosecutors said the 74-year-old nursing home patient had written a will saying she wanted to die, but that it was not clear at the time of her death whether she still did.

"A nursing home doctor who performed euthanasia in April 2016 on a 74-year-old demented and incapacitated woman will be prosecuted," the Netherlands prosecution service said in a statement.

"This is the first time that the Dutch Public Prosecution Service will prosecute a doctor for euthanasia since the introduction of the Act on Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide in 2002."

The progressive Netherlands became, along with neighbouring Belgium, the first country in the world to legalise so-called mercy killing, but it can only be carried out by doctors and under very strict conditions.

The doctor believed she had acted cautiously and "welcomes further guidance on the question of the wishes of incapacitated patients", her spokesman was quoted as saying by the NOS public television channel.

"She regrets however that she has been prosecuted for this."

A regional euthanasia review board had found that the doctor in the case "overstepped the mark" and "not acted carefully in this case", the prosecutors' statement said.

The woman's will, drawn up several years before her admission to the nursing home, was "unclear and contradictory."

"Although the woman had regularly stated that she wanted to die, on other occasions she had said that she did not want to die," it added.

"The doctor should have checked with the woman whether she still had a death wish by discussing this with her."

Prosecutors added that the case "addresses important legal issues regarding the termination of life of dementia patients. To get these questions answered, the prosecution service now presents this specific issue to the court."

In 2017, some 6,585 people chose to end their own lives in the Netherlands, about 4.4 percent of the total number of over 150,000 registered deaths in the country, according to the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee which strictly monitors all cases.

Twelve cases were identified as having possible concerns by the committee, of which two are now under investigation by prosecutors.