Webcast archive: What could go wrong?

Today, we talk about the many ways assisted suicide advocates paint a false picture of the practice.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • Assisted death: What could possibly go wrong?

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

  • Supporters of assisted suicide paint a picture of medical killing as a celebration of life, followed by a peaceful passage from life to death. But is this image realistic?
  • People with disabilities who ask for assisted suicide in Oregon say that they want to die for the following reasons:
    • Loss of autonomy
    • Loss of ability to do activities they enjoy
    • Loss of “dignity”
    • Feeling like a burden.
    • These reasons are all related to the onset of disability. They are also social, having to do with the person’s physical environment, the available support services, family relations, his support system, his self esteem and his beliefs about disability.
    • These problems are not solved by dying.
    • There is very little information on what happens behind closed doors when a person receives medical aid to die.
    • Elders and people with disabilities experience rates of abuse much higher than the general public.
  • Between 2 and 10% of elders say they are abused. This figure probably doesn’t reflect the full extent of the problem.  No one wants to admit that they are vulnerable and many people are embarrassed to be victimized.
  • The abuse of disabled people can go as high as 50%, depending on the kind of disability and the setting.
    • Also, the physical part of the life-ending process can go awry.
    • A study published in the year 2000 in the New England Journal of Medicine gathered data from three other researchers and looked at the problems with the administration of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands.
    • The study looked at 114 assisted suicides and 535 euthanasia, provided by general practitioners, specialists, and nursing home physicians.
    • They evaluated the effectiveness of different methods (injection, oral and rectal administration) and different drugs (barbiturates, opiates)
  • They found three kinds of problems
  • Clinical problems – such as finding a vein for an injection or difficulty swallowing pills, occurred in 5% of euthanasia deaths and 10% of assisted suicides
  • Complications – such as vomiting, spasms, gasping or choking, occurred in 3% of euthanasia deaths and 7% of assisted suicides.
  • Problems with completion – where the person took a long time to die, or awoke from a coma, happened in 5% of euthanasia deaths and 15% of assisted suicides
  • In 20 of the 144 assisted suicides, the doctor finally gave a lethal injection because of the problems that occurred.
  • 37 of the people took a long time to die; 7 awoke from coma.
  • In total, there were problems with 13% of the euthanasia deaths and 31% of the assisted suicides. Overall, there were problems in 16% of the medical killings studied.
    • Two other studies of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands found problems with 12% and 7% of deaths.
    • A study in the U.S. in 1998 found problems in 3 of 20 medically assisted deaths (15%).
    • On the other hand, Studies in Washington and Oregon, in 1996 and 1999, found no problems with assisted suicide. There are several possible reasons for this:
  • In Washington and Oregon, assisted suicides are not supervised by a doctor or disinterested party, nor is any report required.
  • In these states, groups advocating assisted suicide are present in more than 70% of the deaths under these laws. That increases the likelihood that any report of what transpired will be biased.
    • I was not able to find any other studies after the year 2000 about clinical problems with assisted suicide and euthanasia.
    • However the clinical and other problems give us good reason to reconsider the dream of a peaceful death by assisted suicide.
  • Fights over inheritance.
  • Abuse
  • Family squabbles
  • The spectre of swallowing 100 pills and the possibility of vomiting them up, or choking or going into spasms, or waking up from a coma.
    • This is not the fairy-tale ending that the assisted suicide supporters are selling.