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Euthanasia deaths can involve distressing complications

Taking or having lethal drugs administered can be difficult. Complications can and do occur in an assisted suicide or euthanasia death.

Complications can include:

  • Regurgitating the lethal drugs

  • Experiencing seizures

  • Regaining consciousness after taking the drugs

  • Lingering for hours after the drugs have been taken or administered

In the Netherlands, complications have been recorded in 16% of assisted suicide deaths and in 6% of euthanasia deaths. Some assisted suicide deaths have gone so badly that a doctor has been forced to step in and euthanise a suffering or lingering patient.

In the US state of Oregon complications have occurred in 4% of witnessed deaths (more than half of all assisted suicide deaths are not witnessed). According to the state’s records, some people have taken up to 104 hours to die, and at least 8 people have regained consciousness after ingesting lethal drugs.

 In one case in 2018, someone regained consciousness after taking the lethal drugs, and then went on to die of their underlying illness instead of requesting assisted suicide again.

A 2019 study on assisted deaths around the world found that people experienced difficulty swallowing the lethal dose in up to 9% of cases and vomiting in up to 10% of cases. In up to 2% of cases the person regained consciousness and 1.3% even sat up during the dying process. In 3% of cases there were difficulties with intravenous access. People took up to 7 days to die in up to 4% of cases. The researchers expressed concern that some of these deaths may be “inhumane” and recommended that more methods should be used to confirm that a person is not aware but paralysed while dying and therefore in severe pain.

Sources: J H Groenewoud, et al, “Clinical problems with the performance of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the Netherlands”, in New England Journal of Medicine (2000) Feb 24; 342(8): 551-6; Oregon Public Health Division, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act: 2018 data summary (2019); S Sinmyee, et al, “Legal and ethical implications of defining an optimum means of achieving unconsciousness in assisted dying”, in Anaesthesia (20 February 2019).

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