THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – The Netherlands’ highest court ruled Tuesday that doctors can carry out euthanasia in patients with advanced dementia if the patient has earlier made a written directive.
The Supreme Court ruling solidifies in law a practice that already was being carried out on rare occasions in the Netherlands.
The case revolved around the acquittal last year by the district court in The Hague of a doctor who carried out euthanasia on a 74-year-old woman despite indications she might have changed her mind since declaring it in writing.
â€œThe court ruled that the doctor acted with due care and was therefore not punishable,â€ Supreme Court Judge Willem van Schendel said. â€œAccording to the Supreme Court, the court did not make any mistakes in its judgment.â€
Euthanasia cases among people with advanced dementia are extremely rare; at the time of last year’s trial, there had been fewer than 20 cases since the procedure was legalized in 2002.
Under the Dutch law, people are eligible for euthanasia if they make a considered, voluntary request for it and if their suffering is hopelessly â€œunbearable.â€ Patients can draw up a written request for it to be performed sometime in the future, in an advance directive, which should specify the conditions determining when they want it to happen.
Doctors must also seek the advice of at least one other independent physician before killing the patient.
Van Schendel said that in advanced dementia cases, doctors must pay particular attention to the legal requirement that the patient is suffering â€œhopelessly and unbearablyâ€ as a result of dementia.
He said that in such cases â€œnot one, but two independent doctorsâ€ should be consulted about whether the written directive can be honored.
This story has been corrected to show that the case was about euthanasia, not medically assisted suicide.