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AEDs are problematic, but Mrs A is a misleading case
  1. Paul T Menzel
  1. Correspondence to Dr Paul T Menzel, Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus), Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA 98447, USA; menzelpt{at}plu.edu

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The case of Mrs A is a provocative example of euthanasia by advance directive to avoid increasingly severe dementia. It is also a ‘perfect storm’ of a disturbing case, revealing both the challenges that can arise with advance euthanasia directives (AEDs) generally and particular issues in the Dutch procedures. Kim, Miller and Dresser have done a distinct service to bioethics in detailing the case, in explaining the basis of the regional euthanasia review committee (RTE) reprimand of the administering geriatrician and in highlighting some significant deficiencies in Dutch procedures.1

Many readers, after encountering the case, may find themselves sceptical that AEDs can be an ethically viable vehicle for avoiding living into severe dementia. I will argue that caution and care, not resistance to AEDs for dementia, is in order. Real dilemmas of implementation are inherent in advance directives, to be sure, dilemmas that can be aggravated by a patient’s dementia. Yet much can be done in writing an AED to make its implementation in dementia less problematic, and the Dutch emphasis on intolerable suffering as a necessary condition for euthanasia is not the appropriate legal framework.

A case made for trouble

The difficulties in the case begin with the directive itself. Any advance directive, whether for refusing lifesaving treatment or for physician-assisted death, needs to be clear about what is and is not to happen and when. At first Mrs A’s directive seems to provide a trigger point: ‘I want to make use of the legal right to … euthanasia when I am still at all mentally competent and am no longer able to live at home with my husband. I absolutely do not want to be placed in an institution for elderly dementia patients’. In a revision added a year before her death, the time had become ‘whenever I think the time …

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