09:16, March 12 384 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-12 09:16:04
Dutch prosecutors to investigate euthanasia cases after sharp rise

Criminal investigations have been launched into four cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands after a sharp rise in the number of doctor-assisted deaths.

The cases follow the opening of a criminal inquiry last year into the euthanasia of a 74-year-old woman who was described by prosecutors as “seriously demented and legally incapable” of choosing whether to die or not.

The law in the Netherlands changed in 2002 to allow doctors to end the life, on request, of people in “unbearable suffering”, for whom there is no prospect of improvement.

About 7,000 people were euthanised by doctors in 2017, according to official records, up from 4,188 five years ago.

There is yet to be a single prosecution of a doctor involved but concerns have been raised that assisted death is becoming normalised.

Last year the country’s public prosecution department updated its rules to focus on whether a patient made a voluntarily and carefully considered choice, and whether her or his suffering was unbearable and hopeless.

The four cases being investigated have been referred to the prosectors office by regional euthanasia committees which monitor the system and had found problems. The cases were then found to warrant criminal investigation.

Two deaths being examined by prosecutor in Noord-Holland province involve a doctor employed by Levenseindekliniek, an end of life clinic and specialist charitable organisation which went on a recruitment drive last year owing to high demand for its services.

It is claimed that a 67-year-old woman, who lacked the capacity to express her own will because of Alzheimer’s, had been euthanised in May last year despite the physician being unable to ascertain whether the request for death was voluntary and deliberate.

In a second case, an 84-year-old woman was euthanised in June 2017 after claiming her life was “hopeless” because of several physical illnesses. It has been suggested that this was not sufficiently proven to be case.

A public prosecutor in Oost-Nederland is also investigating the euthanasia of a 72-year-old woman in April 2017 who had metastasised cancer but lapsed into a coma, leaving the physician unable to ascertain that the decision for euthanasia was voluntary and well-considered, the review committee said.

In the fourth case, which is being investigated in The Hague, an euthanasia request from an 84-year-old woman was granted in February last year after the patient complained that her freedom of movement had been “very much restricted” by pulmonary emphysema. It has been claimed the physician concluded too easily that the suffering of the patient was hopeless.