The Dutch Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act (Wtl) came into force in 2002. Based on this act, euthanasia, although a criminal act under the Dutch Penal Code, is justified if performed by a physician complying with specified due care requirements. A review committee assesses in every case whether physician-assisted dying has been carried out in accordance with these requirements. If there is reason for doubt, the case is handed over to the Public Prosecutor who judges whether there are grounds for prosecution.
One of the current challenges in the Netherlands is the significance of an advance directive requesting euthanasia. Section 2 (2) of the Wtl allows physicians to carry out euthanasia on patients lacking mental capacity based on an advance directive requesting euthanasia drawn up at a time the patient was still competent. The due care requirements apply ‘to the extent allowed for by the actual situation’. Uncertainty exists about the interpretation of the wording.
This study examines the legal status and practice of advance directives requesting euthanasia, focusing on the question how the due care requirements can be met in case of advance directives concerning late stage dementia patients. The legislative history and case law offers advice how to assess the due care requirements but do not seem to provide enough guidance for a careful and practical application of the advance directive. The legal position of the advance directive requesting euthanasia is complex and in need of assessment.