A Norwegian doctor who helped a terminally ill patient commit suicide in June has been charged with first-degree murder.

Dr. Christian Sandsdalen of Oslo administered a lethal injunction of morphine to a female patient June 13. He later demanded on national television that he be charged with murder as a test of Norway’s laws against assisted suicide.

According to the Associated Press, Sandsdalen also wrote to the Norwegian state prosecutor admitting that he had performed a mercy killing.

“The patient asked me for help to die and I didn’t have the heart to say no,” the doctor told a reporter with Norway’s Dagbladet newspaper.

Special circumstances?

Sandsdalen was charged in late June with premeditated murder and could face a maximum 21 years in prison. However, the chief of criminal investigation for the Oslo police said Norwegian law permits leniency in special circumstances, such as mercy killings. Prosecutors now must decide if they will pursue the charges against Sandsdalen.

Sandsdalen, who has retired from active practice since 1985, had his medical license revoked June 27.

His case has similarities to a situation in the Netherlands where a Dutch doctor was recently charged with murder after assisting in the suicide of a terminally ill cancer patient.

Although assisted suicide is against the law in the Netherlands, it is unusual for the state to pursue charges against doctors practicing euthanasia. Legal interpretations of the country’s anti-euthanasia law generally allows assisted suicide in the Netherlands to continue unchecked.

Pro-life supporters are concerned that more doctors throughout the world are taking it upon themselves to end the lives of suffering patients.

In addition to creating a climate of tolerance for euthanasia, their action could lead to the killing of comatose, severely handicapped or other vulnerable patients. Many of these right-to-die medical practitioners have been encouraged by the actions of Jack Kevorkian of Michigan who has been acquitted several times on physician assisted suicide charges. His death toll now stands at 31 victims.