A recent Washington Post article highlights the potential perils and controversy surrounding the euthanasia of the mentally ill and cognitively impaired. “How many botched cases would it take to end euthanasia of the vulnerable?” chronicles the disturbing euthanasia of a 74 year old woman with dementia. Although the woman had executed a patient advocate, it was ambiguous and when she entered a nursing home, she was no longer able to express her wishes.
Nonetheless, despite her lack of a clear intent, a physician concluded her suffering was unbearable and incurable and prepared a lethal injection. To ensure the patient’s compliance, the doctor gave her coffee spiked with a sedative, and, when the woman still recoiled from the needle, asked family members to hold her down. After the doctor spent 15 minutes trying to find a vein, the lethal infusion flowed. As the article states: “Neither voluntary, painless nor dignified, this physician-assisted death has become the first ever referred to prosecutors by the Dutch regulatory commission - with, so far, unknown consequences.” As the legalization of euthanasia spreads from Europe to the United States, we can sadly expect to see similar cases involving the mentally ill and cognitively impaired in the United States.