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Advance euthanasia directives and the Dutch prosecution


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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