REALity May 2019

 Death by Assisted Suicide can be Cruel and Inhumane

 Advocates for physician assisted suicide paint a beautiful picture of dying by the procedure.  They describe such deaths as “dignified” in that the patient chooses a time and place to die, usually with his loving family surrounding him, with soothing music and flowers in the background, and, of course, with no pain or distress at all.  This scenario is a figment of the imagination.  The reality of the situation can be far different.

A team of eight international researchers has contradicted this delightful picture in an article published in the February 20, 2019 issue of the medical journal, Anaesthesia.

These researchers carefully examined assisted dying and have found that, in many cases, it has been accompanied by pain and distress because of the difficulty in achieving unconsciousness by the patient at the planned point of death.

According to the researchers, there are usually two methods used to provide assisted death, whether voluntary for medical reasons or, involuntarily, for capital punishment purposes.

One method is to use an oral drug whereby the patient is supposed to lose consciousness within five minutes, although death takes considerably longer, with the person dying slowly from asphyxia.   In two thirds of these cases, it usually took about ninety minutes for the person to die, but, in one third of the cases, death took up to thirty hours.  Some deaths took as many as seven days, which is not a pleasant experience for the patient or the family.  Other complications included difficulty in swallowing the prescribed dose (which occurs in 9% of cases); vomiting up the drug (10% of cases), which caused emergence from the coma (in 4% of cases).

Understandably, this failure to achieve unconsciousness leads to psychological consequences for the patient as well as for the others in attendance.  A second method used to cause death by assisted suicide is by way of intravenous injections.  This method can also cause a prolonged time for death (up to 7 days), which occurs in 4% of cases. It can also fail to induce coma, so that the patient re-awakens and may even sit up while in the process of dying (in up to 1.3% of cases).  Some countries have resorted to using hoods involving helium rebreathing where death is accompanied by noisy obstructed breathing, a method which has considerable shortcomings.

It is surprising that the failure to achieve unconsciousness in physician assisted suicide cases is approximately 190 times higher than when drugs are administered by anesthetists during surgery by which it is intended that patients re-awaken from their loss of consciousness after the surgery.  The explanation for this wide difference in reaction to taking drugs to achieve unconsciousness, is not explained by the researchers.

Complications to assisted suicide indicate that it may not be as humane a procedure as advocates pretend it is. It certainly undermines the argument that assisted suicide is more humane than a natural death. Further, according to these researchers, there is no known optimum method of inducing unconsciousness, so death may not come as gently as intended, regardless of the method used.

It is troubling that the assisted suicide law in Canada covers up problems.  Under Canadian law, in every case of assisted suicide, the doctor who approves the death, is also the same doctor who participates in that death, and then reports that death.  This is a perfect way to cover up any problems that may arise in the procedure.