Monday, September 15, 2008

There are ugly truths underlying the public view of assisted suicide.

In a letter published in The Independent newspaper in the UK today. Dr. Claud Regnard of Newcastle upon Tyne writes:

There is no doubting the extreme distress of Debbie Purdy that has prompted her to pursue the right to be helped to an earlier death ("Don't jail my husband if he helps me die, demands MS sufferer", 12 September). What is in doubt is the image of assisted suicide as portrayed by organisations such as Dignity in Dying.

In 1990, the Dutch Ministry of Health Welfare and Sports, the Dutch Ministry of Justice and the Royal Dutch Medical Association approved a study to examine the clinical problems of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

This was published in 2000 in the New England Journal of Medicine and showed that in 22 per cent of cases of assisted suicide there were technical difficulties, medical complications (some causing distress) or inadequate drug doses. In 18 per cent of patients, the drugs failed to end the patient's life and the doctor had to administer euthanasia by administering a lethal drug directly.

The authors suggest that one reason for these failures was the inadequate knowledge and lack of experience of doctors in prescribing drugs for assisted suicide. The alternative solution of a centre such as Dignitas in Switzerland also has problems. In December 2007, their secretary-general, Ludwig Minelli, gave a speech in London describing the problems of finding acceptance for Dignitas in Switzerland. He describes how Dignitas was evicted from three properties and how they now reside on an industrial estate next to a busy brothel. In addition, the Swiss government has now restricted the use of one drug for assisted suicide.

The image that assisted suicide can be completed peacefully and with 100 per cent success in a patient's own home is far from the reality that exists today.

It is interesting to note that even though studies show a significant level of problems and abuses with assisted suicide in other jurisdictions, the state of Oregon continues to claim that they have had few if any problems. I guess they are just better at hiding the cases.

Link to the letter in The Independent:

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