Physicians in the Netherlands are now authorized to sedate dementia patients – without prior approval – before euthanizing them if it is conceivable that they will become “agitated or aggressive” while the doctor gears up to end their life.
The policy change comes after the review committee for cases of euthanasia updated its policies for patients diagnosed with dementia or a similar health condition, The Guardian reports.
The amended policies state that for dementia patients “it is not necessary for the doctor to agree with the patient the time or manner in which euthanasia will be given.”
This comes after a Netherlands Supreme Court determined that a former nursing home doctor, Marinou Arends hadn’t broken any laws after she sedated her 74-year-old patient prior to euthanizing her in 2016.
The landmark case received widespread media attention because prosecutors claimed that Arends did not properly consult her patient before injecting her with a lethal dose of drugs. The patient was given a sedative in her coffee and had to be restrained by her husband and daughter as the doctor injected her with the deadly drugs.
In this case, the elderly woman had indicated that she did not wish to die until the time was appropriate.
According to the Dutch Euthanasia Review Committee, which reviews every euthanasia case, the patient wrote: “I want to be able to decide (when to die) while still in my senses and when I think the time is right.”
But the high court waived the murder charge and cleared Arends.
“We conclude that all requirements of the euthanasia legislation had been met. Therefore the suspect is acquitted of all charges,” Judge Mariette Renckens said at the court in The Hague.
Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the euthanasia review committee said new policies were needed as “doctors now have less to worry about putting their necks in a noose with euthanasia.”
“They need less fear of justice,” he added. “Or for the review committee.”
Additionally, the Dutch government agreed in October on plans to make euthanasia legal for terminally ill children under the age of 12.
In a letter to parliament, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said a government-commissioned investigation by medical experts had found that terminally-ill minors were suffering “unbearably.”
“The study shows that there is a need for active termination of life among doctors and parents of incurably ill children, who are suffering hopelessly and unbearably and will die within the foreseeable future,” the letter said.
Child euthanasia is currently only legal in the Netherlands for minors between the ages of 12 and 16, and newborns, with their parents’ consent. From 16 onwards, only the patient’s consent is required.
The Netherlands and neighboring Belgium became the first countries in the world to legalize euthanasia in 2002.
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