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Dutch doctor goes on trial on charges of euthanising patient with dementia in landmark case

Prosecutors claim the patient may have had second thoughts about dying.

The first day of the trial was heard at the district court in The Hague today.
The first day of the trial was heard at the district court in The Hague today.
Image: Aleks Furtula AP/PA Images

A DUTCH DOCTOR went on trial in a landmark case today after euthanising a patient with severe dementia who may have had second thoughts about dying, prosecutors said.

The unidentified doctor appeared in The Hague district court in the first case of its kind after the assisted suicide of a 74-year-old woman in 2016 who was suffering from an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

The female doctor, now aged 68 and retired, is alleged to have put a sleeping drug into the elderly woman’s coffee. When the patient woke up, the doctor had to ask her family to hold the patient down while she completed the process.

“The doctor is facing a charge of carrying out euthanasia without following the strict guidelines set down for such a process,” public prosecution spokesman Vincent Veenman told AFP.

“It’s the first case of its kind,” in the Netherlands, he added.

The Dutch prosecution service however later said in a statement even if the doctor was found guilty in the case, she should not face a sentence.

Judges are to hand down their verdict in two weeks.

The Netherlands was the world’s first country to legalise euthanasia in 2002. It can only be carried out under strict conditions set down in Dutch law.

This particular case started four years before the woman’s death, when she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a disease that gradually robs people of their mental faculties.

In a written statement regarding her wishes, she asked to be euthanised rather than being put into a care home for people suffering from dementia, the prosecutors said.

But the woman also added: “I want to be able to decide (when to die) while still in my senses and when I think the time is right,” public broadcaster NOS said.

Shortly after she was eventually taken into care, a doctor specialising in geriatric care judged that she qualified for assisted suicide according to her statement. Two independent doctors confirmed the diagnosis, NOS said.

On the day of her death the woman was given a sedative in a coffee rendering her unconscious, with her daughter and husband present at the procedure.

“The woman was in a state of confusion and the doctor did not see any point in consulting her,” NOS said.

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However, the woman woke up during the euthanasia process, sat up and had to be restrained by her relatives before dying, it said.

“A crucial question to this case is how long a doctor should continue consulting a patient with dementia, if the patient in an earlier stage already requested euthanasia,” prosecution service spokeswoman Sanna van der Harg said.

“We do not doubt the doctor’s honest intentions,” she added.

But prosecutors felt the doctors should have had “a more intensive discussion with the demented patient” before euthanising her, she said.

“The law doesn’t give a clear answer, that’s why we are now asking a judge in this case,” Van der Harg said.

© – AFP 2019

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