Court tussle over right to euthanase Dutch woman with dementia
The first time that an institution has refused to allow a patient to be given a lethal injection.
Sorry, we missed this euthanasia story from the Netherlands. It deserves to be more widely known.
Cobi Luck on the day of her death.
An 80-year-old Dutch woman suffering from dementia was euthanased on April 24 after a sternly-worded court order addressed to her nursing home.
The woman, who was later identified as Cobi Luck, had a stroke two years ago. She became paralysed and totally dependent on carers in Ter Reede dementia specialist care home in Flushing. But when she asked her son to get the nursing home to organise euthanasia, the director refused. In his opinion, supported by the woman’s own doctor and a psychologist, she was not mentally competent.
Ignoring the advice of the nursing home, Ms Luck’s family supported her request, so they called in Levenseindekliniek (the End of Life Foundation). This organisation arranged for two doctors and a psychiatrist to assess her condition. They concluded that she was competent, or competent enough, to request euthanasia. The nursing home refused to release Ms Luck into the hands of Levenseindekliniek, so the family sought a decision from a court.
The position of the nursing home, which has a Christian inspiration, was that Ms Luck only spoke about euthanasia after her family had paid a visit. She still appeared to enjoy life and made comments which were not consistent with a desire for euthanasia. Its staff knew her well and believed that she was not competent to make such a momentous decision. It stressed that people like Ms Luck were very vulnerable.
Her family found this “outrageous”. Their position was that many people never mention their desire for euthanasia unless they are asked. Besides, three doctors had assured them that Ms Luck knew what she was doing. A judge sitting in an emergency session in Utrecht decided in favour of the family and Levenseindekliniek. Judge Sap told Earl Ter Reede, chairman of the nursing home, that he had to respect the wishes of the woman.
“It’s not a question of incapacity. You simply do not want to accept the decision,” the judge said. “You are putting yourselves in this situation on your own authority. I am observing the principle that you must respect this woman’s wishes. It’s the final thing you can do for her.”
This was the first time in the history of Dutch euthanasia legislation that an institution had refused to allow a patient to be euthanased. From a legal point of view, the most interesting feature of the case is that the judge gave more weight to the opinion of the doctors at the Levenseindekliniek than the woman’s own medical staff because they had “specialized medical knowledge and experience”.
A day after the court order Ms Luck was taken from the care home and was given a lethal injection at the Levenseindekliniek.
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