THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch appeals court on Wednesday cleared a man of any criminal responsibility for helping his 99-year-old mother take her own life — a case that aimed to create precedents for assisting suicide in a country where euthanasia already is legal under certain circumstances.
Judges in the city of Arnhem said Albert Heringa should not be prosecuted for helping his mother die in 2008 by giving her enough pills for a fatal overdose.
In a written verdict, the appeals court said Heringa had to decide between obeying the law against assisting suicide and his "unwritten moral duty" to help his mother achieve her wish for "a painless, peaceful and dignified death."
Heringa "could not lean back and do nothing, while watching her suffer," the verdict said. "This would have caused him life-long feelings of guilt."
While euthanasia has been legal in the Netherlands for years if carried out under strict conditions by a physician, assisted suicide by a friend or relative of the person who wants to die remains illegal.
Euthanasia supporters welcomed the decision, which overturned a lower court's conviction of Heringa in 2013. While he was found guilty in 2013 of assisting his mother's suicide, the court did not impose a punishment.
Heringa appealed his conviction, while prosecutors said he should have been given a three-month suspended sentence.
"This is a step in the direction we want to go," said Fiona Zonneveld of the Dutch Association for Voluntary Euthanasia. "Many people who consider their lives completed want to be helped by their loved ones. We think that should be allowed."
Prosecutors said they would carefully study the ruling before deciding whether to appeal to a higher court.
"Assisting suicide according to the conditions laid out in the euthanasia law is and remains, in the view of the prosecution office, exclusively a task for a doctor," prosecutors said in a statement.