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Scope of euthanasia expanded in Dutch law

Wednesday 22 April 2020

The Dutch Supreme Court has issued a ruling that doctors in the Netherlands can no longer be prosecuted for carrying out euthanasia on dementia patients who have previously given written consent, even where the person with dementia is no longer able to confirm their previous wishes.

The decision comes after a doctor was taken to court in 2016 for carrying out assisted suicide on a person with Alzheimer's, who had previously asked for the procedure in a written statement. Prosecutors had said that the doctor did not properly consult the person, however, the family supported the doctor's decision, and the doctor was acquitted last year.

The Supreme Court’s ruling clarifies the law, maintaining the current conditions for euthanasia requiring patients to be enduring "unbearable and endless suffering", with at least two doctors agreeing to the procedure. However, the new ruling sets out that doctors "may carry out a prior written request for euthanasia in people with advanced dementia." It further notes that patients must also have made this request before their dementia was so advanced that they could "no longer express their will". You can read the full judgement (in Dutch) here: