The Netherlands, despite the growing coronavirus pandemic, has made it easier to euthanize patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s by removing a patient consent requirement. This change will allow the Dutch medical establishment to more readily kill elderly family members, like my grandmother.
Just about every day, my grandmother calls my mother (her daughter), my sister or me asking if we can come and pick her up from either from jail, prison, the courthouse, the trial, work, church, the counter at JCPenney, the bus station, the airport, the restaurant and take her home. In one particular instance, she was even being held hostage somewhere and actually tried to call the police. The story changes just about every day, and each one is often more implausible than the last. While we would do anything for her, my mom lives in Colorado while my grandmother is currently living in a memory care facility in Missouri where she’s close to various family members. She is “home.”
Honestly, sometimes her stories are rather funny and give us all a good laugh, but there’s a sadness there too. When we tell her that she is home, she often gets upset and frustrated. To her, home is with my parents, where she lived for several years, but that’s not really possible anymore without full-time help.
When a relative has dementia, it’s tough on the entire family. From their inability to recognize close family members to the fear that he/she may escape their home or the memory care facility and get hurt is a common and daily concern. It’s almost like taking care of a small, though adult, child who is easily confused and lost, but also able to do things that could put them at extreme risk, like drive a car or give out their social security number and credit card information, which my grandmother has done numerous times.
At this point, my grandmother has escaped from one nursing home and the memory care facility where she is now living. During her most recent outing, she was actually picked up by the police and unable to provide any information other than her own name and she wasn’t able to relay what happened to my mother either. But I have no doubt, she was on her daily quest to “go home.”
It is difficult and exhausting to take care of a family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s. According to the Mayo Clinic, “dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with your daily life. It isn’t a specific disease, but several of different diseases may cause dementia.” A patient with severe enough dementia or Alzheimer’s needs almost 24/7 care, either at home with full-time assistance or in a memory care facility that is designed to keep the patient inside (in a way, it’s a bit like a prison though much nicer). But that is for their safety.
The Netherlands, instead of caring for these elderly individuals, wants to give the state more power to kill them.
Though euthanizing a patient with dementia was legal, now the doctors no longer need to confirm the request with the patient before they die if they signed an earlier consent form. This new legal precedent, handed down from the Dutch Supreme Court, grew out of a haunting case that happened a couple of years ago. A woman, who had Alzheimer’s, signed a consent form agreeing to undergo euthanasia, but only “while still in my senses and when I think the time is right.” Her wishes were ignored by both her family and her doctor, who sedated her before euthanizing her while she was fighting against the procedure. The most disturbing aspect of this case is that her husband and daughter held her down while she was being killed. She wanted to continue living but her desire was ignored in the most brutal way possible.
Despite her confusion, eccentricities and amusing stories, my grandmother has a right to keep on living as do other individuals struggling with dementia. As families, we need to come around and support our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents and fill their last years with joy, not death.