Just recently, we saw a heartbreaking article about a woman named Brittany Maynard who has planned her assisted-suicide death for Nov. 1. She is clearly terrified of a hard and painful death, and has been led to believe that assisted suicide is the best way out. However, Compassion and Choices, the leading advocates of assisted suicide, cannot guarantee her the easy death they advertise.
The most comprehensive study on clinical problems with assisted suicide (published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Feb. 12, 2000) was conducted over a six-year period in the Netherlands, where assisted suicide has been legal for many years. It found that over 18 percent of assisted suicides experienced problems severe enough to cause a doctor to step in and euthanize the patient. In at least 14 percent of assisted suicides the patient had problems with completion including waking up from coma, not becoming comatose, and not dying after becoming comatose. Another 7 percent of assisted suicides reported muscle spasms, extreme gasping for air, nausea and vomiting.
The New England Journal of Medicine study insightfully mentions that all reporting doctors are practitioners and supporters of assisted suicide and euthanasia who are less likely to report unfavorable data. They “may have underestimated the number and seriousness of problems,” causing complications to be under reported to an unknown degree.
Assisted suicide supporter Sherwin Nuland of the Yale University School of Medicine referred to the above study in a 2000 editorial also printed in the New England Journal of Medicine:
“This is information that will come as a shock to the many members of the public — including legislators and even some physicians — who have never considered that the procedures involved in physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia might sometimes add to the suffering they are meant to alleviate and might also preclude the tranquil death being sought.”Closer to home, in Oregon, we’ve seen complications revealed though media outlets. Unfortunately, the state of Oregon doesn’t keep of track of or investigate complications with assisted suicides, so we only hear of some problems though the media.
For example, a 42-year-old Oregon man, David Pruiett, woke up three days after ingesting his lethal dose. In another case, Patrick Matheny’s brother-in-law admitted that he had to step in and complete the death when Patrick’s assisted suicide failed. Even assisted suicide advocate Cynthia Barret slipped up and discussed with the press a failed assisted suicide case where the patient was taken to a Portland emergency room and revived (“Again with feeling, the pills didn’t kill,” by David Reinhard, Commentary, Idaho Mountain Express, March 16, 2005).
Brittany Maynard has without a doubt been sold a false bill of goods. Death is always an unknown. It is a myth that we can completely control it. She has been promised a flawless death, better than any natural death could ever be, and she has been stripped of any possible hope. Her story has been shamelessly paraded all over the United States by Compassion and Choices.
Compassion and Choices needs to learn how to show some real compassion. Embroiling a deathly sick young woman in a political fight is not compassionate. True compassion requires providing Ms. Maynard with high-quality care and supportive pain management, and shining light and love on every remaining day that she has, rather than assuming that her days are not worth living and exploiting her vulnerability for political gain.
Lani Candelora blogs for TrueDignityVT.org.