Statistics concerning assisted suicide in Washington state are raising questions about potential dangers with the program.
The Australian Care Alliance analyzed data from the state, noting that assisted suicide was originally legalized in 2009, but expanded this year to allow non-physicians to affirm that someone has a terminal illness and is eligible for assisted suicide. And as the state has accepted and promoted assisted suicide, it has increased.
In 2021, 400 prescriptions for lethal drugs were written, leading to 291 deaths. This is a massive increase from 2010, when just 51 people died.
But even more disturbingly, not all of the drugs dispensed have been accounted for.
The drugs are not tracked after being dispensed, yet the report noted that a considerable amount of people died of natural causes before taking them, or never took them. The status of those drugs are unknown, meaning someone could accidentally take them — or worse, intentionally give them to another person.
Additionally, the state report confirms that most people are not opting for assisted suicide due to fear of a slow, painful death. In 2021, 85% of people cited both a loss of autonomy and being less able to enjoy life as their reasons for dying; sadly, 56% cited being a burden on family, and 73% cited a loss of dignity.
The Australian Care Alliance also pointed out that death was not always peaceful or fast; some people took hours, if not days, to die. And it wasn’t always an easy process:
In 2014 one person suffered seizures after ingesting the lethal medication. At least 18 patients have regurgitated the lethal medication. Seven of these cases occurred in 2016 alone. In 2018 some 8 people (4.25% of those for whom information is available) experienced “Regurgitation, Seizures, Awakening or Other” complications. The report does not specify how many people experienced each of these. These complications may be related to the use of new experimental cocktails of lethal drugs being used since the price of the previously used drugs, secobarbital and pentobarbital (Nembutal), escalated.
The drugs used in assisted suicide are often the same as the drugs used in executions. And while botched executions rightly are criticized, there is very little attention paid to what people may suffer during assisted suicide — which experts have warned could be substantial pain. Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at the Emory School of Medicine, previously explained in an op-ed that because the patient is paralyzed, they look peaceful, but what they’re experiencing likely is not.
“Advocates of assisted dying owe a duty to the public to be truthful about the details of killing and dying,” he said. “People who want to die deserve to know that they may end up drowning, not just falling asleep.”
In Washington, there were no health care providers present for numerous assisted suicides, so it is not known if patients took the drugs freely… or if they were pressured in any way.
“Washington continues its experiment with prescribing various cocktails of lethal drugs to be taken, often with no witness present, leaving people at risk of distressing complications and at risk of being killed by a family member or someone else interested in their early death,” the Australian Care Alliance noted, concluding, “It is not a safe model for any other jurisdiction to follow.”
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