Last April the Dutch Supreme Court approved the euthanasia death of an incompetent woman with dementia who resisted at the death. The woman with dementia had stated in her advanced directive that she wanted euthanasia but when the doctor came to inject her she resisted. The doctor put drugs in her coffee to sedate her but the woman continued to resist so the doctor had the family hold her down while the doctor injected her.
Last month, the Dutch media published an interview with Marinou Arends the doctor who carried out the euthanasia death of the woman with dementia. Arends said that she would do it again and advised other doctors in similar situations to “just do it.”
The effect of the Dutch Supreme Court decision is to permit a doctor to lethally inject a person with dementia based on past statements without confirming this is the person’s final wish.
The World Health Organization defines dementia as:
a syndrome – usually of a chronic or progressive nature – in which there is deterioration in cognitive function (i.e. the ability to process thought) beyond what might be expected from normal ageing. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgement. Consciousness is not affected. The impairment in cognitive function is commonly accompanied, and occasionally preceded, by deterioration in emotional control, social behaviour, or motivation.
California legalized assisted suicide in 2016. Assisted suicide (as distinguished from euthanasia) is done by a physician prescribing lethally drugs, but the person themselves is required to self-administer the drugs. The latest report indicated that the number of assisted suicides, in California, increased by 20% in 2019.
A few days ago I read a Los Angeles Times article calling for the expansion of the California assisted suicide law to include people with dementia.
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The Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2002. Euthanasia is done by a physician who lethally injects a person. Euthanasia is legalized by creating an exception to homicide in the criminal code.
Assisted suicide requires a person to self-administer the lethal drug cocktail. However, many people are not diagnosed with dementia early on and some forms of dementia advance quickly.
Since the effects of dementia vary, there will be people who will be approved for euthanasia (the lethal drugs administered by a physician), who at the time of death will be incapable of consenting. In those circumstances there will be a temptation to practice non-voluntary euthanasia such as was the case with the death of the Dutch woman with dementia who resisted. That case was controversial because the woman said NO and resisted, but the doctor injected her anyway.
Sadly, Canada is debating expanding euthanasia to include non voluntary euthanasia. Bill C-7 will permit euthanasia (lethal injection), under the term MaiD [Medical Aid in Dying], of a person who is incompetent if they were approved for euthanasia while competent.
There are many sad stories about dementia. Nonetheless, killing people with dementia often requires killing people who cannot consent meaning non-voluntary euthanasia.
Caring not Killing.