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I’m the Doctor Who Is Here to Help You Die

Book cover, "The Inevitable"In an article adapted from the newly-released book “The Inevitable,” Dr. Lonny Shavelson, Chairman of the American Clinicians Academy on Medical Aid in Dying talks about his experiences prescribing life-ending drugs to terminally ill people in California and how he came to transition from emergency room doctor to end-of-life specialist.

Most of his patients were almost dead by the time he helped them die. Sometimes, this was because their primary doctors had dragged their heels—delaying the process for weeks or months. About a third of people didn’t make it through the state’s waiting period, because they died naturally or lost consciousness. Or because, when the day arrived, they were too disoriented to fully consent to their own death.

Patients are always asking for “the pill,” Shavelson said, but there is no magic death pill. In fact, it’s surprisingly hard to kill people quickly and painlessly; the drugs aren’t designed for it and nobody teaches you how to do it in medical school.

In almost every place where assisted death is legal, such as Canada and Belgium, euthanasia is also legal. This means that patients can choose between two kinds of dying: a drinkable solution or an injection, delivered by doctors. Patients almost always choose the injection.

Story by Katie Engelhart. Published in The Atlantic, March 2, 2021.

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