Milou de Moor
A Dutch general practitioner is being sued for not approving the euthanasia of a 19-year-old woman.
The tragic events surrounding the death of Milou de Moor could become an important legal precedent if action is eventually taken against the unnamed doctor.
Ms de Moor lived in the small town of Zaamslag, near the Belgian border. She suffered from lupus, an autoimmune disease, from the age of 12. This was not only painful, but had severe psychological effects. She was subject to depression, mood swings, anger, and blackouts, apart from physical symptoms. At least three years ago she requested euthanasia, apparently with the support of her mother, father and twin sister.
According to the story given to the media by her family and doctors, it appears that all the necessary people had agreed, in accordance with the Dutch law on euthanasia. A date was set for her death. However, at the last minute, the general practitioner reneged and said that she did not believe that euthanasia was appropriate. Then the hospital declined to go ahead, as well.
When Ms de Moor heard the news, she rushed off in a panic and hanged herself in her family’s apple orchard.
Now the family feels stabbed in the back and has filed a complaint with the Dutch Medical Regulatory Board to sue the doctor for refusing permission. “We don’t want the doctor to get away with it,” they say. “The bitter part is that the euthanasia had been approved. It was just a question of fixing the date when Milou would say goodbye,” says her mother.
A hospital in Ghent, just over the border in Belgium, supports the parents and also plans to pursue legal action. “We owe this to Milou. She was hounded into death,” says the hospital.
The family’s story has been treated very sympathetically in the Dutch media. Milou’s sister Janiek has even appeared on a popular TV show to explain her version of events.
This could become a very significant case in the Netherlands – and elsewhere. When it comes to lawsuits, doctors are extremely gun-shy. Their business is healing people, not lining the pockets of lawyers. So they are easily intimidated by threats of legal action, whether as a lawsuit for malpractice or as a complaint to a medical board.
The doctor is currently on holidays and has had no opportunity to defend herself in the media. In her absence, she is being depicted as a heartless functionary who denied Milou her right to a peaceful farewell to her family.
If the doctor is rebuked by the authorities, this could effectively lead to euthanasia on demand in the Netherlands. Thereafter, any patient can claim to be in the grip of “unbearable suffering” – which is all that the Dutch law requires for the euthanasia process to commence. But a teenager with severe emotional problems in addition to an intractable disease is not a good judge of her own future. Perhaps Milou’s doctor thought that better medication, better doctors, and a more upbeat atmosphere in her family would change her outlook completely.
However, rather than fight to save a life, I’ll bet that most Dutch doctors will just rubberstamp every request that passes across their desks. Otherwise they could be crucified in the media and censured by their colleagues. It will be interesting which the Dutch respect more: the informed consent of the patient or the informed consent of the doctor.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.