Euthanasia case: criminal prosecution of geriatric medicine specialist
on behalf of the defendant
Court hearing at The Hague on 26 August
The Public Prosecution Service (OM) is of the opinion that there is a lack of clarity when addressing the question of free choice when it comes to euthanasia in incapacitated patients. On Monday 26 August, substantive proceedings in a criminal case against a geriatric medicine specialist got underway at the court in The Hague.
The geriatric medicine specialist is disappointed that the Public Prosecution Service has decided to prosecute, as she acted cautiously and with great diligence in this matter. Robert-Jan van Eenennaam, lawyer: “It is incomprehensible to me that a doctor who acted with such diligence, who was given the green light by two SCEN doctors (Support and Consultation on Euthanasia in the Netherlands), spoke extensively with the family and remained in close contact with other care providers around this patient, is being prosecuted.”
Thorough and diligent
Although the doctor is aware that the reasons behind the criminal prosecution are to provide legal certainty to doctors and patients, she is being prosecuted in her own personal capacity and being seen as a suspect in criminal proceedings. Van Eenennaam:
“The client has found herself in a criminal law trap, when I believe there are in fact clear legal provisions which should have protected the doctor against this prosecution, with all the consequences that it entails.”
“This specialist in geriatric medicine has always kept the interest of the patient in mind,” Van Eenennaam maintains. “The doctor thoroughly investigated what her patient intended through the living will, through conversations with the husband and daughter of her patient, and with the GP whom the patient has frequently seen and discussed her wish for euthanasia with. Based on this, the patient’s wishes were clear to the doctor. She also followed an approach open to scrutiny, but is now confronted with the fact that she is a suspect and runs the risk of criminal conviction.”
However, the doctor warmly welcomes establishing clarity for both doctors and society. It’s just that this should not be achieved through the criminal law process. Van Eenennaam therefore argued in court today for avenues other than criminal proceedings.
“This problem seeks clarity through the political process, through clear legislation and through further elaboration of guidelines by professional medical associations. It is not right to prosecute an individual doctor in order to provide clarity to both doctors and society. That leads to arbitrary decisions about whether or not to prosecute, whereas criminal proceedings should be reserved for excess.”