Man survives doctor-assisted suicide attempt; Irony Abounds

This should bring together a bunch of interesting groups: – Man survives doctor-assisted suicide attempt – Mar 4, 2005

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — A terminally ill cancer patient who tried to end his life with drugs prescribed under Oregon’s assisted-suicide law awoke three days later, alert and talkative, his wife said.

David Prueitt, who had lung cancer, took what was believed to be a fatal dose of a barbiturate prescribed by his doctor in January. He fell into a coma within minutes, but woke up three days later, said his wife Lynda Romig Prueitt.

Prueitt’s wife told The Oregonian newspaper that he asked, “Why am I not dead?”

Prueitt, 42, lived for two more weeks before dying of natural causes at his Estacada home, about 35 miles southeast of Portland.

Hmmm. I missed the class in pharmacology where we were told how to calculate predictably lethal doses of medicines. I’m not familiar with this Oregon law, and this isn’t an ED thing, so it’s off my scope for the most part.

Complications with doctor-assisted suicides are rare. In 2001, a patient took 37 hours to die after ingesting a lethal dose, and in 2003, a patient took 48 hours to die. Neither regained consciousness.

So, can a physician be successfully sued for a failed assisted suicide? A wrongful-life suit? Pain and suffering?

There’s an insurance company trying to figure out what to do right now. I’m betting they don’t know, either.


  1. Daniel Newby says:

    “I missed the class in pharmacology where we were told how to calculate predictably lethal doses of medicines.”

    Well, cardiac surgeons know how to reliably stop the heart. Anesthesiologists routinely stop breathing. Reliable death is easy. The trick is making it pleasant—curare and potassium are quick but cruel. You can combine opiods, but they have to be administered in the right order, which means you need a suicide machine.

    I always wonder why inert gas isn’t favored. Hypoxia is a very pleasant way to die, since the higher brain functions are the first thing to shut down when blood oxygen drops. It is exactly like fainting, except that you don’t fall over and revive. In fact it is a major problem in industrial hygiene: Down at the factory, Fred goes into the pressure chamber to start cleaning it. He starts breathing nitrogen. He feels a bit lightheaded. He takes a nice deep breath to clear it. Whoops. He collapses. A few minutes later his buddy Bob sees him and thinks Oh, crap, I’d better go help Fred, and gets himself zonked. And then Ed sees those two… Before you know it you’ve got a whole pile of dead guys. If it can work for a bunch of strong workingmen who theoretically saw a safety video, it ought to work for a terminal cancer patient.

    Just don’t use helium unless you want your last words to sound like Donald Duck.

  2. “There’s an insurance company trying to figure out what to do right now. I’m betting they don’t know, either.”

    Anyone wanna bet that there’s a lawyer out there who knows exactly what he wants to do about this?

  3. A) I bet you can get your hands on a cylinder of CO2 or Nitrogen (or even liquid nitrogen) without an MD/DO, and with only a little Rube Goldberg skill figure out a way to asphyxiate yourself without poisoning anyone else (otherwise the danger of the pile of bodies described by Dan rears its ugly head). But then no doctor is needed. Course, just a little messier is the old 45 cal to the head. Unfortunately these are politically incorrect ways to die.
    B) Amen JB
    c) Most likely these folks were on other drugs that affected their barbiturate metabolism. Or they had digestive abnormalities delaying/prolonging absorbsion. Thus the “lack” of lethal effect. (I always have to look these damn interactions up myself, thank goodness there are lots of electronic programs to do so). If so, then the lawyers have a leg to stand on, unfortunately.