Opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia — or “death with dignity,” as proponents call it — have long warned that the practice would eventually begin to be forced on the disabled and elderly who may not be capable of granting their consent to the end-of-life decision.
That appeared to be the case with a 2017 incident in the Netherlands in which an elderly woman with dementia was held down by her family and forcibly euthanized by a doctor who made the final decision on her behalf.
The unnamed 74-year-old woman suffered from dementia and had previously expressed her interest in an assisted suicide when “the time is right.” But when asked if she wanted to die, she responded, “But not just now, it’s not so bad yet!,” according to a report by a Dutch euthanasia review committee. She never formalized the request and her dementia eventually surpassed the point where she was able to grant her full consent.
Nevertheless, a doctor overseeing her care determined that the woman was “suffering intolerably” and made the decision on her own to forcibly euthanize the older woman.
The woman was not informed of the decision at the time in order to “avoid unnecessary distress,” and in fact was making plans to go out to a restaurant with family that day, according to the report. She refused to drink a sedative-laced cup of coffee and struggled greatly against the doctor’s efforts, so much so that her own family members held her down while the lethal dose was administered.
A panel that was assembled to review the woman’s case initially cleared the doctor of any wrongdoing, as they determined that the doctor had acted “in good faith.” The decision seemingly set the stage to allow for forced euthanasia on unwilling patients in the future, a chilling reality for Dutch individuals suffering from mental or physical disabilities or advanced age.
However, in a bit of good news, the initial panel decision clearing the doctor of wrongdoing has been overruled by the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee. The Committee ruled that the doctor’s actions were unethical and recommended further investigation of the matter, along with five other similar cases.
Incredibly, this is the first time a doctor has been formally censured with regard to euthanasia since the practice was legalized in the Netherlands in 2002, and the doctor could very well face criminal charges, according to a public prosecutor.
At issue is the fact that the elderly woman had never formally stated that she wished to be euthanized while in a clear state of mind. Furthermore, her living will reportedly contained contradictory information and the woman was said to have expressed her wish to die on some days while stating her desire to continue living on others.
Tragically, death by euthanasia is increasing in the Netherlands — last year alone, 169 individuals suffering from dementia were euthanized in the Netherlands, and most were in the early stages of the disease. Another 83 people who suffered from mental illness were also put to death.
As disturbing as the whole notion of assisted suicide is in general, it is one thing when someone in a clear state of mind makes their desire to end their life known. It’s quite another thing when an individual is no longer capable of making such a monumental decision of their own free will — and those in control decide for them.