Joel B Zivot

Medical expert backs Better Way campaign

Better Way is pleased to announce that Dr Joel B Zivot MD, FRCP(C) MA, a practicing anesthesiologist and intensive care doctor has lent his support to the campaign.

Joel is a dual national of the US and Canada and works against the medicalization of punishment in the setting of lethal injection. He is also a frequent commentator on the intersection of medicine, the law, bioethics and policy.

In a recent piece for The Spectator, he outlined his concerns that assisted suicide is neither painless nor dignified for patients, challenging the claims of campaigners that an assisted death is akin to ‘drifting off to sleep’. He wrote:

“As a doctor and expert witness against the use of lethal injection for execution in America, however, I am quite certain that assisted suicide is not painless or peaceful or dignified. In fact, in the majority of cases, it is a very painful death.

“The proposals before the House of Lords would see sick patients prescribed a lethal dose of perhaps 100 barbiturate pills. Laws in Oregon, like those proposed in the UK, require patients to take the drugs themselves, which rules out any form of general anaesthetic. Often patients are handed anti-sickness and anti-seizure tablets but nothing more in preparation, meaning they’re very much awake as the assisted suicide process begins and they start ingesting fatal quantities of barbiturates. Without a general anaesthetic, many will be in great discomfort, even if outwardly they don’t appear to be suffering.

“Indeed, there are countless examples of people who have discovered just how messy, painful and distressing it can be as they watched their loved ones go through the process. Take Linda Van Zandt, who helped her aunt, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, die in California. She later described how she had to feed 100 crushed pills in a drink to her aunt ‘who could barely swallow water’, but ‘had to drink all of it in less than five minutes to “ensure success”’. She concludes: ‘The day was fraught and frightening… We had been forced to assist in the most bizarre fashion, jumping through seemingly random legal hoops and meeting arbitrary deadlines while my aunt suffered, and finally emptying capsules, making an elixir so vile I cried when I knew she had to drink it. This was death with dignity?’”

“Advocates of assisted dying owe a duty to the public to be truthful about the details of killing and dying.”