Doctor who ordered family to hold down Alzheimer’s patient resisting assisted suicide is exonerated

Patient seen in the hospital in this undated photo. | Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

A doctor who ordered family members to physically restrain a woman who was fighting for her life during a physician-assisted suicide has been exonerated.

Controversy erupted in January 2017 when it became known that a doctor had administered an assisted suicide for a patient suffering from Alzheimer's. While the patient had initially requested to die by assisted suicide, she later changed her mind.

After adding a sedative to the patient's coffee to make her drowsy, the doctor then began injecting a lethal dose of drugs into her IV. The woman woke up, however, and started fighting for her life. That's when the doctor called on the family to help by forcefully holding their mother down to the bed until she died.

In a ruling last week, a court in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled that the declaration the patient made four years earlier expressing the desire to die by physician-assisted suicide was sufficient, and the doctor who administered the lethal dose of drugs had not broken Dutch euthanasia laws. The doctor also had been previously cleared by a Dutch government panel.

“We conclude that all requirements of the euthanasia legislation had been met. Therefore the suspect is acquitted of all charges,” Judge Mariette Renckens told the court, according to The Guardian.

“We believe that given the deeply demented condition of the patient the doctor did not need to verify her wish for euthanasia,” Renckens added. 

The daughter of the euthanized woman supported the doctor’s decisions, telling the court in a statement that it “freed my mother from the mental prison which she ended up in.”

The central issue in the case was whether the patient had actually given consent to die in light of her mental state and the distressing circumstances that ensued at her death. The verdict is seen as a test of the Netherlands' euthanasia laws, particularly as people are now living longer.

Advocates against the practice are decrying the decision as unjust.

"It is a second tragedy that a Dutch court acquitted the doctor responsible for the death of this Dutch woman who was drugged and then forcibly restrained as she became the victim of euthanasia. Her death was anything but voluntary," said Kristen Hanson, community relations advocate with the Patients Rights Action Fund, in a statement sent to The Christian Post.

"Patient autonomy eventually disappears when medical professionals, insurance companies operating in a profit-driven healthcare system make qualitative judgements on whether a person’s life is worth living," she added. "The United States should take note of where the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide has led in other places and avoid this dangerous path."

The Netherlands has become known for its liberal euthanasia laws — the practice has been legal there since 2002 — and in recent years some physicians, including some supportive of euthanasia, have argued that conditions have gotten out of hand. Some left-wing politicians in the country have argued that Dutch people should be allowed to choose the point at which they die, even if they are physically healthy.

In neighboring Belgium, children as young as 9 and 11 have been legally put to death.

The practice of physician-assisted suicide has in recent years been legalized in several U.S. states and in the District of Columbia.

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