By Michael Cook
What happens if you attend your buddy’s assisted suicide end-of-life celebration and have an exploratory sip of his lethal prescription? Well, you might die. A case study at the recent North American Clinical Congress on Toxicology in Montreal outlined what happened to a Colorado man.
“The patient’s friend was prescribed a Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) preparation as part of a physician-assisted suicide program,” read a slide from the case study, as reported by the Montreal Gazette.
“After the patient’s friend consumed part of the preparation and described it as bitter, this patient ingested an unknown-sized ‘sip’ of the preparation.” The liquid was a lethal cocktail designed to cause a person to lose consciousness and stop their heart. It sent the 37-year-old to hospital. His life was saved.
This has happened before. An article last year in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services narrated a stunning example of accidental poisoning at the deathbed of an assisted suicide:
Ambulance 64 is dispatched to a 35-year-old male with possible alcohol overdose. Upon arrival, the crew is directed to a back bedroom where they find two fully clothed males with their legs hanging off a bed. One is elderly, the other is middle aged. Both are unconscious and unresponsive with shallow respirations. A bystander hands a medicine bottle to the attending paramedic frantically saying, “They drank this! They drank this!” The bottle contains digoxin 100 mg, diazepam 1,000 mg, morphine 15,000 mg, amitriptyline 8,000 mg and phenobarbital 5,000 mg. She remarks that the older man “should be dead” and the younger one “should be alive.”
The bystander states that the older man is a “death with dignity” patient who invited loved ones to be present while he consumed the MAID medication. After his first swallow, he remarked, “Man that burns!” The younger man said, “Let me see,” and then also took a swallow. The attending paramedic directs rescuers to begin ventilating the younger man while requesting evidence of advance directives for the older man. Care was not rendered to the death with dignity patient because he had a valid Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (MOST) form stating he wanted no lifesaving measures performed on him.
The patient spent two days in ICU, but recovered, apparently unscathed.
BioEdge recently reported the case of a Queensland man who swallowed a lethal prescription meant for his wife after she died in hospital of natural causes. He died.
All legislation allowing assisted suicide contain safeguards which are supposed to prevent misuse of lethal prescriptions. The safeguards don’t always work.
Editor’s note. This appeared at BioEdge [https://bioedge.org/end-of-life-issues/assisted-suicide/accidents-do-happen-in-legal-assisted-suicide] and reposted with permission.