What They’re Not Telling You About Assisted Suicide

Advocates of physician-assisted suicide want you to believe that this process of ending life is peaceful and serene. First the caring physician prescribes a lethal dose of medication that you take home and ingest. Then minutes later you make a peaceful transition to “the other side.”

What they’re not telling you — and some say they’re hiding — is that there’s an unknown, horrifying dark side to these lethal drugs.

Contrary to expectation, some patients and those around them at the time of an assisted suicide have come face-to-face with the unexpected — a process that goes desperately wrong.

In some cases, the drugs don’t work and the patient wakes up wondering why he or she is still alive.

The family of 42-year old David Prueitt alerted the Associated Press to his failed assisted suicide attempt. He took the prescribed lethal medication as instructed with his family at his side. It was unforeseen that David would be unconscious for 65 hours, then wake up unscathed.[1]

At other times the patient will linger for days before finally succumbing to the lethal prescription.

One patient died after ingesting the medication, but it took her a US record of 104 hours to expire. George Eighmey, Compassion’s executive director in Oregon, said, “The doctors we talked to said it’s likely she just had a very strong heart.”[2]

There are occasions when the patient has severe, adverse reactions to the drugs. These incidents have horrified and traumatized family and friends who witness the dramatic aftermath.

In one case the patient took the lethal meds as normal with no doctor present but began to exhibit physical symptoms.  Alarmed and unable to handle the situation, his wife called 911 and an ambulance took him to a local hospital where they revived him. After which they transferred him to a nursing home.[3] His health condition ultimately claimed his life.

Not the kind of death either one of them had envisioned.

The Netherlands has decades of experience with assisted suicide and euthanasia. One of those who have practiced it for many years is Dr. Pieter Admiraal. He has warned about the risks and shortcomings associated with assisted suicide. “In spite of these measures [preparations], every doctor who decides to assist in suicide must be aware that something can go wrong, with the result being a failure of the suicide. For this reason, one should always be prepared to proceed to active euthanasia. In other words, the doctor should always have at hand thiopental and muscle relaxant.”[4]  (Emphasis mine)

The New England Journal of Medicine researched 114 cases of assisted suicide in The Netherlands[5] and found that:

  • 9 percent of the patients experienced complications including spasms, vomiting or extreme gasping.
  • 14 percent of the cases encountered problems such as an inability to induce a coma or that the patient awoke after in a coma.
  • 19 percent of patients experienced a longer than expected time to die, lasting as long as seven days.
  • 18 percent of the cases resulted in the physician directly intervening to administer lethal medication to kill the patient by direct euthanasia.

In a study of physician-assisted suicide in the United States, Emanuel et al. reported that the process failed 15% of the time.[6]

There has been at least one documented case in Oregon when the assisted suicide attempt failed and a family member took matters into his own hands. His brother-in-law “helped” him die. “It doesn’t go smoothly for everyone,” the relative explained. “It would not have worked without help.”[7]

The process of intentionally taking the life of a chronically ill or vulnerable person can be wrought with traumatic and unintentional circumstances. Evidence shows that assisted suicide can and does add trauma and stress to what would have been a natural and peaceful death.

Use our resources to help educate yourself and others. The lives we save someday may be our own.


FOOTNOTES: [1] Associated Press, Assisted suicide attempt fails, March 4, 2005. [2] http://crosscut.com/2010/03/firstyear-complications-with-assisted-suicide/ [3] David Reinhard, The pills don’t kill: The Case, part one, Oregonian, March 23, 2000 and The Cover-Up, part two, Oregonian, March 26, 2000. [4] Admiraal, P.V., “Toepassing van euthanatica,” Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd, 2/11/95, p. 267 [5] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200002243420805 [6] Emanuel EJ, Daniels ER, Fairclough DL, Clarridge BR. The practice of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the United States: adherence to proposed safeguards and effects on physicians. JAMA 1998;280:507-513 [7] Oregonian, 1/17/99 and 3/11/99


For the most vulnerable,

Bradley Mattes
President, Life Issues Institute

Life Issues Institute is dedicated to changing hearts and minds of millions of people through education. For 25 years, organizations and individuals around the world have depended upon Life Issues Institute to provide the latest information and effective tools to protect innocent human life from womb to tomb.

Life Issues Institute welcomes comments relevant to columns that are civil, concise, and respectful of other contributors. We do not publish comments with links to other websites or other online material.