A man accidentally consumed drugs meant to kill his friend – and this isn’t the first time

Italy, assisted suicide, euthanasia

Assisted suicide advocates often claim it is needed to be legal so those with terminal illnesses can be spared a painful, supposedly-undignified death. These suicides are touted as being safe and peaceful — a way for not only the ill person to die calmly, but for the family to be with them in their final moments, without any trauma or added grief.

But what happens when it all goes terribly wrong?

The North American Clinical Congress on Toxicology recently held its annual conference, and a case study was presented about an assisted suicide gone wrong, according to the Montreal Gazette. A 37-year-old Denver man was present at the assisted suicide of a friend who had pancreatic cancer. “The patient’s friend was prescribed a Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) preparation as part of a physician-assisted suicide program,” a slide read. “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.”

While the Gazette worded the incident in a somewhat confusing manner, what essentially happened is that the friend of the man with cancer drank some of the concoction meant to end the cancer patient’s life.

A photo of the slide was shared on Twitter:

People were shocked. “If this is true, it’s highly irresponsible of the medical professional in attendance to allow a random guest to touch the drugs!! Seems very suspicious,” one person tweeted in reply. “My chin is on the floor looking at that list. I’m stunned that anyone could survive that ‘sip,'” a nurse said.

“Was the attending physician out back having a spliff and a beer?” another person tweeted. “Or are these self-supervised events? Not even a pamphlet telling them not to share their lethal dope with their mates?”

Though many derided the case as crazy, as Bioedge pointed out, it’s not the first time such a situation has taken place.

The Journal of Emergency Medical Services published an article about a near-identical event which took place last year:

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.

In both cases, the person who took sips of the fatal cocktail survived; however, the apparent ease with which they were able to access the concoction should raise eyebrows.

Additionally, these incidents further call into question just how peaceful assisted suicide truly is — a question which has already been raised. A 2021 op-ed from Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at the Emory School of Medicine, explained that the peaceful appearance of assisted suicide can be misleading.

“[F]or both euthanasia and executions, paralytic drugs are used,” he said. “These drugs, given in high enough doses, mean that a patient cannot move a muscle, cannot express any outward or visible sign of pain. But that doesn’t mean that he or she is free from suffering.”

The same drugs are used in assisted suicide as those used in executions. Zivot pointed out that, due to the paralytic drugs, even doctors would not — and did not — notice signs of distress during botched executions, so far from a quick and painless death, the condemned prisoners drowned in their own fluids, while paralyzed and unable to move or react. “In Oregon, four in five assisted suicides have employed pentobarbital or its close relatives,” he wrote, adding, “If a post-mortem examination were to be performed on a body after assisted suicide, it’s very likely that similar pulmonary oedema would be found.”

Additionally, a study in the medical journal Anaesthesia found that a third of assisted suicide patients took 30 hours to die, while four percent took seven days to die. Further experiments with assisted suicide were disastrous; one cocktail was said to be “burning patients’ mouths and throats, causing some to scream in pain.”

As Zivot concluded, “Advocates of assisted dying owe a duty to the public to be truthful about the details of killing and dying. People who want to die deserve to know that they may end up drowning, not just falling asleep.”

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