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Dutch doctors now permitted to sedate patients in secret before euthanising them

Doctors in the Netherlands are now permitted to secretly sedate patients who have dementia before euthanising them.

New regulations say that in those cases where a patient has dementia and has previously requested euthanasia, “it is not necessary for the doctor to agree with the patient the time or manner in which euthanasia will be given.”

The regulations are the result of a murder trial against a Dutch doctor, Marinor Arends, who gave her dementia patient sleeping pills without the patients knowledge, to stop her resisting, before administering a lethal injection.

Before her dementia deteriorated, the patient had told medics that she had wished to die when ‘the time was right’. A previous attempt to end the patient’s life through lethal injection had failed because the patient had fought back before having to be restrained by a relative.

In an interview defending her actions, Dr Arends said that in the days leading up to her death, the patient affirmed her desire to live, saying, “I don’t want to die,” on several occasions.

Dr. Arends asked the woman three times if she wanted euthanasia, but on each occasion, she answered that she did not. Despite the patient’s protestations, Dr. Arends decided to end her life anyway.

However, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the doctor had been acting within the existing euthanasia law. The Court ruled that doctors need not interpret an advance directive for euthanasia in a literal manner.

Euthanasia for children

Euthanasia has been legal in the Netherlands since 2002 and the law permits voluntary euthanasia for anyone over the age of 16, and children age 13-15 can be euthanised with their parents’ consent. Earlier this year, the Dutch government said it would be changing the regulations to allow doctors to end the lives of terminally ill children between the ages of one and twelve.

Non-voluntary euthanasia is already available for Dutch babies before the age of one.

Last year euthanasia accounted 6,361 deaths in the Netherlands – 4% of the country’s total deaths.

Expanding euthanasia law

In July 2020, a Dutch MP introduced a controversial Bill that would allow healthy people to have an assisted suicide if they feel their life is ‘complete’.

Pia Dijkstra, Foreign Minister for the four-party coalition Government and medical ethics lead for coalition party D66, submitted a Bill that would allow healthy individuals over the age of 75 to seek euthanasia if they have had “a strong death wish” for at least two months.

Outlining their opposition to similar proposals in 2017, the KNMG Royal Dutch Medical Association believes it could have the undesirable effect of stigmatising the aged population.

The medical association said that the government should invest in measures to make sure the elderly do not feel their lives are pointless, over the option of an early death.

Right To Life UK’s spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “Once again, completely the wrong lesson has been learnt from this tragic case. The Dutch legal system have wrongly concluded that the law should be expanded to include even those who actively do not want to die, as happened in this particular case. Instead, they should recognise how dangerous euthanasia legislation is, because, among other concerns, it has lead to the taking of  the lives of people who do not actually want to die.”

“This case also shows one of the difficulties with advanced requests for euthanasia – people can and do change their minds. Sadly in this case, her doctor decided when that time was on her behalf and did so in explicit contradiction to what her patient actually wanted.”

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