Death by assisted suicide is not painless, says medical expert

Ingesting pills is one common method of assisted suicide but Zivot says "there are all sorts of problems" with this.(Photo: Unsplash/Towfiqu barbhuiya)

A medical expert has challenged the narrative of those wanting to legalise assisted suicide that it offers a painless, peaceful and dignified way in which to die.

Joel Zivot, a practising anaesthesiologist, said in a series of videos for the Better Way campaign that misleading language around the subject was giving the public an inaccurate picture of death by assisted suicide.

He said that death by ingesting pills - one common method of assisted suicide - could be "horrendous" and sometimes lead to an injection being administered "because many individuals are not able to swallow".

Expanding on this process, he said it "is more asphyxia by drowning than falling off asleep".

He also rejected the idea that death was the only option for someone in immense pain.

"My job is to reduce suffering and I do it all the time. To suggest that it can't be done, this is untrue," he said.

The Better Way campaign has been formed by a coalition of academics, disability activists and medical experts as both Scotland and England consider changing the law on assisted suicide.

They are pleading with politicians to look carefully at the details of the legislation "and not be swayed" by the rhetoric of pro-assisted suicide campaigners.

They say that investment in palliative care offers "a better way", but they also want "a redoubling of efforts to prevent suicide" and tougher action on disability inequality and "the abuse of the vulnerable".

"Proponents of this legislation describe it as 'safe' and 'compassionate'. We would question this," a spokesperson for the campaign said.

"The proposals before UK legislators would see vulnerable citizens given a lethal dose of medication to bring about their deaths. Medical experts have serious concerns that these methods are associated with great pain and distress.

"The actual process of 'assisted death' is, of course, just one consideration we face. There are profound ethical dilemmas, concerns about the impact on the disabled people's community, and fears about the insufficiency of safeguards. We firmly believe assisted suicide is the wrong path for our society."