Dutch Supreme Court Rules Doctors Can Euthanize Dementia Patients

Brittany M. Hughes | April 24, 2020
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The Dutch Supreme Court has ruled that doctors in the Netherlands can legally euthanize patients suffering from advanced dementia.

The new legal directive allows doctors to end the life of a patient who provided written consent for the procedure before their condition made such consent impossible. The rule also requires the person to be going through “unbearable suffering without any prospect of improvement," without a "reasonable alternative” to euthanasia.

The case was spurred by the account of a doctor who in 2016 euthanized a 74-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The woman had written out her wishes for assisted suicide prior to entering a nursing home, where her condition deteriorated. However, prosecutors alleged that the woman began sending “mixed signals” about her end-of-life decisions after she entered the facility.

According to the BBC, the woman reportedly had to be physically held down by family members as the doctor administered the fatal dose that ultimately ended her life.

“As long as the woman was able to communicate, the nursing home doctor should have kept talking to her about her desire to live or to die,” prosecutors said.

Nevertheless, the court ruled in the physician’s favor, saying that a “conversation with the patient would not only have been useless, because she was no longer able to have a coherent conversation” and ultimately clearing the doctor of all charges. 

The Dutch Supreme Court this week ruled that a doctor cannot be prosecuted for administering euthanasia if all requirements for consent and suffering are met, even if a patient is no longer able to consent to the procedure due to their illness.

"Even if it is clear that the request is intended for the situation of advanced dementia, and that situation is reached so that the patient is no longer is able to form and express a will, there can be circumstances where no follow-up on the request is possible," the court’s ruling said.