Senior doctor: Assisted suicide is ‘neither painless nor dignified’

A senior doctor has warned that assisted suicide is “neither painless nor dignified” as activists once again push to legalise the practice.

Dr Joel Zivot, Associate Professor of Anaesthesiology and Surgery at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, warned that his research on drugs used in lethal injections showed that they led to a “very painful death”.

Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill is scheduled to be debated in the House of Lords on 22 October. The Bill would enable those deemed to have less than six months to live to get help to kill themselves.


Writing in The Spectator, Dr Zivot referred to an execution he had witnessed where the barbiturates used caused a pulmonary oedema, meaning the man had “drowned in his secretions”.

neither painless nor dignified

He highlighted that at the time “even my medical eye detected no sign of distress”, but his suspicions were confirmed following autopsies on a number of inmates executed by lethal injection.

The senior medic warned that the proposals in the Meacher Bill “would see sick patients prescribed a lethal dose of perhaps 100 barbiturate pills”, and like Oregon would “require patients to take the drugs themselves, which rules out any form of general anaesthetic”.

Adding: “many will be in great discomfort, even if outwardly they don’t appear to be suffering”.

Routine killing

Dr Zivot was joined by Danny Kruger MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well, who argued that there was “a better way of dying than assisted suicide”.

the state is routinely killing the frail, depressed and disabled

Writing in The Times, Kruger said accounts such as Zivot’s made for “harrowing reading” and stressed that palliative care means “no one needs to die in physical agony”.

The MP added how activist group Dignity in Dying (formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) “points to Oregon as the example for the UK to follow. They never mention Canada, Belgium or the Netherlands, with good reason.

“There the state is routinely killing the frail, depressed and disabled. Even in Oregon, the business of death by appointment is horrible.”


Kruger concluded: “Rather than licensing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to people at the most vulnerable stage of their lives, our focus should be on ensuring that every dying person has the best possible care at the end.”

Under the current law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a person who intentionally encourages or assists the suicide or attempted suicide of another person commits an offence which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

In 2015, a Bill to remove current safeguards in England and Wales was soundly defeated in the House of Commons by 330 votes to 118. In the same year, MSPs in the Scottish Parliament rejected Patrick Harvie’s Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill by 82 votes to 36.

Also see:

Elderly person with Zimmer frame

Victory on assisted suicide – the highlights

The threat of assisted suicide looms large once again

Resources: Assisted suicide

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