April 24: The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled this week that doctors can lawfully euthanise patients with severe dementia as long as the patient signed off on it while legally capable.
The Netherlands’s highest court reaffirmed a practice that was already being carried out on rare occasions by ruling that patients can be euthanised if they issued written directives in the past when they still had full mental faculties, according to the Associated Press.
The cases centred around last year’s acquittal in a district court of a doctor who euthanised a 74-year-old woman. Prosecutors attempted to make the case that there were signs the woman may have changed her mind after giving permission to be euthanised.
“The court ruled that the doctor acted with due care and was therefore not punishable,” Supreme Court Judge Willem van Schendel said. “According to the Supreme Court, the court did not make any mistakes in its judgment.”
The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia in 2002, and the procedure is quite rare, with only 20 people opting to end their lives since then.
“It is good that there is now a ruling from the Supreme Court. But even with more legal clarity, not all complicated dilemmas around euthanasia in the case of dementia are gone. With every request to end a life, a doctor must still make an individual assessment if euthanasia is appropriate and if all due care criteria are met,” René Héman, president of the Royal Dutch Medical Association, said in a statement.
Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in nine U.S. states.