Dutch Supreme Court approves euthanasia in advanced dementia case

The Supreme Court in the Netherlands has ruled in a landmark decision that under strict conditions doctors can carry out euthanasia on patients with advanced dementia. This is only allowed if the patient earlier made a considered, volunatry written request for euthanasia.

Due care

The court ruled that the doctor acted with due care and was therefore not to be convicted for murder. According to the Supreme Court, the Regional Court in the Hague (link to English verdict) did not make any mistakes in its judgment.

Reaction doctors lawyer

Robert-Jan van Eenennaam, the lawyer of the acquitted doctor, comments: ‘There is more clarity for doctors now on how they must act when carrying out euthanasia on a patient with dementia. The Supreme Court also made clear that criminal prosecution is only indicated in severe cases in which doctors do not act with any care. In other cases disciplinary law is the path to follow.

Written statement

Under the Dutch law, people with dementia are eligible for euthanasia if they make a written statement which holds a considered, voluntary request for it. Also their suffering must be unbearable and there must be no reasonable alternative. In this written request, which is meant to be carried out sometime in the future, the patient should specify the conditions determining when he wants the euthanasia to happen.

Advice other doctors

Doctors must also seek the advice of at least one, but in these cases preferably two, other independent physicians before carrying out the euthanasia. The ruling also made clear that doctors can legally follow through with the euthanasia procedure if the patient can no longer agree to it, due to his illness.