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Some euthanasia deaths happen without a patient's consent

Non-voluntary euthanasia, or the practice of ending a person’s life without their express consent, occurs in jurisdictions where voluntary euthanasia has been legalised, and it generally goes unpunished.

In the Flanders region of Belgium in 2013, non-voluntary euthanasia accounted for 1.7% of all deaths in the region.

In the Netherlands, there has been a recent increase in euthanasia for people with severe dementia – people who lack the mental capacity to consent to death. One such patient was a 74-year-old woman who had dementia. Her family requested that her doctor honour an advanced directive she had signed before her disease had progressed and have her euthanised. Her doctor secretly drugged her, but she protested against being killed. Her family held her down while the doctor administered the lethal drugs.

In total, 166 people with dementia were euthanised in the Netherlands in 2017. This increase led Berna van Baarsen, a member of a Regional Euthanasia Review Committee, to resign in protest in 2018, saying that she doesn’t believe the law intended for people who could not make an oral request for euthanasia to be killed.

Source: K Chambaere, R V Stichele, F Mortier, et al., “Recent trends in euthanasia and other end-of-life practices in Belgium,” New England Journal of Medicine (2015) 372:1179-1181; Dutch News, “Doctor reprimanded for ‘overstepping mark’ during euthanasia on dementia patient,” in Dutch News (29 January 2017); Janene Pieters, “Euthanasia Ok’d for dementia patients who request it when lucid,” in NL Times (7 January 2016); Regionale Toetsingscommissies Euthanasie, Vijftien jaar euthanasiewet: belangrijkste cijfers, 2017 (2018).

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