AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, November 10, 2011 ( – When a 64-year-old Dutch woman with dementia was killed in March, she was the first to be euthanized without the ability to consent, Dutch media reported Wednesday.

But anti-euthanasia activists are contesting the claim, saying Dutch patients have been killed without their consent for years.

The woman, a long-time euthanasia advocate, had progressed in her illness to the point where she lacked the ability to consent, but a committee of doctors approved the euthanasia nevertheless.

She left a note expressing her wish to be euthanized, and her husband and children supported her decision.

Alex Schadenberg, who heads the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Ontario, warned that allowing euthanasia without the ability for the patient to consent is a “whole other track.”

“When a person has dementia, the greater sufferer is the family member who is watching that person suffer,” he said.  “So now really what they’re saying is, the family members who are experiencing the person with dementia, that we can have euthanasia to alleviate their suffering.”

“If you can do this to someone with dementia, and they’re also doing this to people with head injuries, well that means we’ve defined cognitive disabilities as a reason to euthanize,” he added.

The Netherlands formally legalized euthanasia in 2002, provided it was requested by a patient experiencing unbearable suffering.

But the law’s interpretation has since broadened to the point where the Royal Dutch Medical Association last month released new guidelines claiming the law allows euthanasia in cases of “mental and psychosocial ailments” such as “loss of function, loneliness and loss of autonomy.”

In reporting their 2010 statistics, for the first time the Dutch government reported instances of euthanasia for dementia patients.  In 2010, 21 persons suffering from the early stages of dementia, but who were otherwise in good health, were euthanized.

“Euthanasia is beyond effective control in the Netherlands,” wrote bioethicist Wesley J. Smith on his Secondhand Smoke blog.  “Folks, believe me when I tell you that ‘protective guidelines’ are not really meant to protect, but give the false illusion of control.”

“Once you accept killing as an acceptable answer to the problem of human suffering, ‘choice’ has increasingly less to do with it,” he added.