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Advance euthanasia directives and the Dutch prosecution
  1. Jonathan A Hughes
  1. School of Law, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jonathan A Hughes, School of Law, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, UK;{at}


In a recent Dutch euthanasia case, a woman underwent euthanasia on the basis of an advance directive, having first been sedated without her knowledge and then restrained by members of her family while the euthanasia was administered. This article considers some implications of the criminal court’s acquittal of the doctor who performed the euthanasia. Supporters of advance euthanasia directives have welcomed the judgement as providing a clarification of the law, especially with regard to the admissibility of contextual evidence in interpreting advance euthanasia directives, but suggested that the law regarding advance euthanasia directives should be further relaxed to remove the requirement of current suffering and that an unfortunate consequence of the prosecution is that it is likely to deter doctors from performing euthanasia even in more straightforward cases. This article argues that the court’s endorsement of the use of contextual evidence is problematic, that the case for prioritising prior decisions over current interests has not been advanced by the discussion surrounding this case and that worries about the alleged deterrent effect are not well founded.

  • euthanasia
  • suicide/assisted suicide
  • living wills/advance directives
  • criminal law

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  • Contributors JH is the sole contributor.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement There are no data in this work.