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Murder Charge Proven Against Euthanasia Doctor, But Case Dismissed

April 27, 1995

ALKMAAR, Netherlands (AP) _ In a decision bound to stretch the limits of the Netherlands’ liberal euthanasia policy, a court refused to punish a Dutch doctor who killed a severely deformed newborn.

The District Court in this northern city said that despite the evidence, Dr. Henk Prins acted to to spare the 3-year-old girl from what he said was unbearable, uncurable pain.

``The court has come to the decision not to declare the defendant punishable and to discharge him from prosecution,″ the three-judge panel said Wednesday.

Rianna Quirine Kunst was born in 1993, suffering from hydrocephaly, spina bifida and leg deformities. Prins testified that the baby girl screamed whenever she was touched and that no medical treatment could have kept her alive more than a few overwhelmingly painful months.

After consulting with several specialists who supported his diagnosis and getting the approval of her parents, he injected her with a sleep-inducing drug and a muscle paralyzer that stopped her breathing. Rianne died in her mother’s arms 15 minutes later, Prins said.

``The verdict gave me hope ... I am very relieved,″ Prins said at a press conference.

``I feel the court has done me justice, and the verdict is a positive step for doctors,″ the 49-year-old gynecologist said.

Euthanasia is illegal in the Netherlands and punishable by up to 12 years in prison, but has widespread public support.

Doctors who follow a series of guidelines can expect immunity from prosecution. Incurably ill patients must be in unrelievable pain and must repeatedly and lucidly ask for death.

Rianne obivously was unable to request euthanasia, but the court said Prins was let off because ``her (Rianne’s) parents had explicitly, repeatedly, and consistently asked for the termination of life.″

Under Dutch law, the facts of a case can be proven without a defendant being found guilty or innocent. Prins was charged with murder, and the court said the charge was proven, but did not convict him.

The prosecutor’s office had earlier decided to drop the charges against Prins, but Justice Minister Winnie Sorgdrager insisted on a trial to set a legal precedent in cases where euthanasia candidates are unable to request death.

Even Judge Ben Posch, who rendered the verdict, thanked Prins for his honesty and apologized for having to drag him into court.

``We wish you all the best in the future,″ Posch said, adding that he hoped the country’s legislators would define euthanasia policy rather than use the courtroom to set legal precedent.

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