Euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths not necessarily pain-free

At the recent parliamentary hearings on Bill C-7 in Canada, a Canadian physician and anaesthesiologist working in the United States, Dr Joel Zivot, raised some very important questions about the way that euthanasia and assisted suicide recipients are dying and questioned, based on his own research, whether it can be said categorically that such deaths are in fact, peaceful or pain-free.

Dr Zivot is an expert in opposition to lethal injection, the most common form of execution in the United States for death row inmates. His expertise is relevant to euthanasia and assisted suicide because the pharmaceutical and medical methods used to end the lives of people under the Canadian euthanasia regime (referred to as “MAiD” in Canada) are the same as those used for inmates by lethal injection in jurisdictions where capital punishment is legal.

Dr Zivot attended the execution of an inmate on death row (on the inmate’s request) as he had appeared as an expert in his legal defence. From watching the execution, Dr Zivot came away with the impression that the death appeared peaceful.

However, not long afterwards, Dr Zivot was provided with a file of autopsy reports of inmates who had been killed by lethal injection. He says his previous perception, that inmates died a peaceful death, changed as a result of this new information:

“Upon review, I noticed a striking and surprising finding: almost all autopsies revealed that the lungs had filled with frothy fluid. This occurred if the execution was by an injection of either pentobarbital or midazolam. I reviewed the autopsy of the execution that I had witnessed and found that, although I had seen no outward struggle, the inmate had developed the striking lung congestion I had noted in others.”

“Since then, I have reviewed a number of published MAiD protocols and found an additional striking factor: MAiD includes the use of a drug that paralyses the body, making it impossible to breathe or to move. These drugs do not block the sensation of pain or the awareness of being paralysed. Notably, the use of paralytics in execution by lethal injection generally has been abandoned because of its obvious cruelty.”

Because of its association with the death penalty, pentobarbital became much harder to obtain and so alternatives such as an alternative drug, Propofol, were sought instead. Dr Zivot explains that as an anaesthesiologist, he has injected Propofol into thousands of patients:

“Very commonly, patients complain of a burning sensation. I learned to block this painful sensation with a prior injection of a local anaesthetic. MAiD uses a dose 10 times greater than what I would use in the operating room.”

“Like pentobarbital execution, Propofol will very likely burn its way through the lungs and cause the frothy fluid accumulations seen in lethal injection. The experience of this will be akin to death by drowning. Waterboarding, widely understood as torture, creates the same effect. The injection of a paralytic after the Propofol will make every death appear outwardly unremarkable – and according to MAiD proponents, even beautiful in its peacefulness.”

Dr Zivot has made an important recommendation for all deaths by euthanasia and assisted suicide:

It is time to perform autopsies on everyone that dies by MAiD, so we can determine if MAiD protocols produce frothy fluid in the lungs. It is time to cease the use of paralytics in MAiD so we can be certain we are not covering the potential for a painful death akin to drowning. It is time to accept what the evidence available to date shows: MAiD may very likely provide a torturous death.”

Unless autopsies are performed, we will never know whether the claims made by euthanasia activists that such deaths are indeed pain free and peaceful. The only person who could testify to this reality will be dead. 

There is much more work to be done in uncovering the false claims made by euthanasia activists.