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Doctor cleared after having family 'hold down' patient during euthanasia

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Caduceus. Credit: Hurst Photo via Shutterstock.

Amsterdam, Netherlands, Feb 2, 2017 / 08:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Dutch doctor who drugged an elderly woman and had her restrained as she fought lethal injection has been cleared by a review panel for “acting in good faith.” The woman, in her 80s, had dementia and had been living in a nursing home and exhibited “fear and anger” at times, and would be found wandering around the building, according to case documents. She had reportedly expressed a desire for euthanasia when “the time was right” at an earlier date, but had not done so recently.

The senior doctor at the the nursing home determined that the woman’s condition meant that the time was right, and put a sleep-inducing drug into the woman’s coffee in order to administer the lethal injection without consulting the woman. The woman woke up as the doctor was trying to give the injection, and fought the procedure. The doctor had to ask family members to hold the woman down while she completed the injection.

"I am convinced that the doctor acted in good faith, and we would like to see more clarity on how such cases are handled in the future," said Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Regional Review Committee, which considered the case. The case will be further considered by Dutch courts to determine whether doctors performing euthanasia on patients with dementia should be prosecuted if it is determined they have acted in good faith.

The Netherlands was the first country to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2002, and has had several controversial cases involving euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in recent years.

In 2016, critics decried a case in which a Dutch woman in her 20s was euthanized after her mental health condition was declared “insufferable” by a team of doctors and psychiatrists in the Netherlands. She had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and other mental illnesses as a result of being a victim of sexual abuse. Multiple reports classified her condition as “incurable,” thus legally justifying the woman's death by euthanasia under Dutch law.

The woman was just one of many who have been legally euthanized due to mental illness since the law began. The country’s law also provides provisions for children ages 12-15 to request euthanasia or assisted suicide with parental permission, a safeguard that does not apply to minors age 16-18. There is also a provision for newborn infants to be euthanized if a certain set of criteria are met.

The Netherlands is also considering and expected to enact a law that would allow for elderly people to request euthanasia simply if they “have a well-considered opinion that their life is complete.” The option would be limited to “the elderly,” though the briefing did not define an age limit. The provision is expected to go into effect by the end of 2017.

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