THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Dutch prosecutors on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to rule on the case of a nursing home doctor who was cleared of wrongdoing for the euthanasia of an elderly dementia sufferer, to gain clarity on how doctors should deal with incapacitated patients.
In a ruling earlier this month, trial judges at The Hague District Court found that the female patient had expressly requested euthanasia at an earlier stage in her disease and the doctor had acted lawfully.
The doctor had followed guidelines requiring consultation with other doctors and the patient’s family, and that the euthanasia request was made voluntarily, the judges found.
By going straight to the Supreme Court, prosecutors took the unusual step of passing over the appeal stage of legal proceedings – which could have sought punishment.
The Supreme Court will give an opinion that will set a legal precedent.
“The prosecution foremost wants to gain clarity on how doctors should deal with euthanasia on incapacitated patients,” the prosecution said in a statement.
The trial centered around a 74-year-old woman, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease four years before her death.
The patient had a certified living will stating her wish for euthanasia if her condition were to worsen significantly. The doctor carried out the mercy killing with the consent and support of the woman’s family, but the patient was no longer capable of giving her consent because of her advanced dementia.
It is seen as a test for the legal boundaries of euthanasia in the Netherlands, where assisted suicide and mercy killing is allowed by law under restricted conditions when overseen by medical professionals.
The conditions include that a patient is experiencing unbearable suffering with no hope of recovery, and expresses a wish to die while of sound mind.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Alexandra Hudson)