Thursday, January 25, 2018
As my blogging colleague Becky Morgan has highlighted in two of her posts this week, about a February conference at Hastings and recent proposals for "dementia advance directives," end-of-life decisions are increasingly high-profile topics for those working in law, medicine and ethics. Add to this the case under review in the Netherlands, where a physician described as a "nursing home doctor" performed euthanasia for a 74-year old woman with "severe dementia." A Dutch law legalizing euthanasia, that came into effect in 2002 and that was recently the subject of new "guidelines for performing euthanasia on people with severe dementia," is also under review. From Dutch News in September 2017:
The case centres on a 74-year-old woman, who was diagnosed with dementia five years ago. At the time she completed a living will, saying she did not want to go into a home and that she wished to die when she considered the time was right. After her condition deteriorated, she was placed in a nursing home where she became fearful and angry and took to wandering through the corridors at night.The nursing home doctor reviewed her case and decided that the woman was suffering unbearably, which would justify her wish to die.
The doctor put a drug designed to make her sleep into her coffee which is against the rules. She also pressed ahead with inserting a drip into the woman’s arm despite her protests and asked her family to hold her down, according to the official report on the death. This too contravenes the guidelines. Once the public prosecution department has finished its investigation it will decide whether or not the doctor, a specialist in geriatric medicine, should face criminal charges.
In reading articles about this matter, I'm struck by how often the articles (and my own post here) draw attention to the woman's age, comparatively "young" at 74, as well as the fact that her euthanasia directive written five years earlier also expressed her wish not to leave her home. If an individual is younger -- with dementia -- does that reduce society's willingness to "allow" aid in dying? If individuals are older -- and what age is old enough -- is it less controversial? And is a family bound by the individual's wishes not to leave her home? Tough questions, indeed.
This case has also drawn attention in commentary in the US, including a January 24, 2018 Washington Post piece with the provocative title, How Many Botched Cases Would It Take to End Euthanasia of the Vulnerable?