Section 7

How does your life actually come to an end

“Well, that’s the most expensive piece of chocolate I’ve ever had”

They all use the same medication.  

Pegasos, Dignitas* and Lifecircle all ask their members choosing assisted suicide to take a drug called Pentobarbital of Sodium.   Its brand name is usually Nembutal.   This is a barbiturate. Invented 100 years ago, it is generally used in small dosage as a sleeping medication. The overdose leads quickly to sleep, followed by coma and finally the end of respiration causing your heart to stop. Lifecircle and Pegasos ask you to apply it intravenously, like a general anaesthetic.   Dignitas asks you to drink it.

Nembutal, then perfectly legal, was the drug used by Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Jimi Hendrix. It was sold in the 1950s as a harmless sleeping potion for children !

Lifecircle and Pegasos

At Lifecircle and Pegasos, a qualified nurse will insert a cannula into a vein in your arm and then attach the cannula to a drip containing a saline solution.   Finding a vein is sometimes not easy because many patients are elderly and their arms have already been well-used for injections.   The Pentobarbital is attached to the drip feed but is not turned on until the patient does that personally.   After confirming their identity, awareness and intention, the patient will then release the valve to allow the Pentobarbital to enter their vein.

In less than 20 seconds you will fall asleep.   Your sleep will then become deeper until, usually after about 2 minutes, no pulse will be detectable.   Shortly after that, your death can be confirmed.

Lifecircle and Pegasos are keen to point out that this is not an “injection”.   No one is putting anything into you.   This is only an intravenous port and it is you who are putting the drug into yourself.

It is different at Dignitas.  

There you must take the Pentobarbital in the form of a drink.   First, you will be given a 50ml glass containing Paspertin (Metoclopramide).   This is a stomach-soothing medication – in other words it will stop your stomach rejecting the Pentobarbital itself when you drink it later.   It stops you being sick.   30 minutes after taking the Metoclopramide, you will then drink the Pentobarbital itself.   This can be done through a straw if necessary.   You should have fallen asleep within about 3 to 5 minutes.   Your heart will normally stop beating 20 to 30 minutes after that.

Apparently (I haven’t tried it) the Pentobarbital itself tastes horrible.   You are therefore given a bar of chocolate (well, this is Switzerland) to mask the taste.   The less-than-famous last words of one Dignitas member were “You’ll have to work on the taste a bit”.   Another sighed and said, “Well, that’s the most expensive piece of chocolate I’ve ever had”.

Which one of these processes you choose can only be a matter for you and the people accompanying you.   Both are painless.   Both are dignified.   One involves needles and the other doesn’t.   One takes five minutes, the other (including the anti-emetic) takes over an hour.

Some members choose the cannula method because they feel it might be awkward for their friends or relatives to sit beside their bed for an hour making small talk and then watching them die.   Others choose to drink the medication because it feels less “medical” and more of a natural act. Many want to avoid being pricked again after dozens of such experiences in hospitals. For some, a drink is more clearly something you are doing for yourself rather than having it done to you.   It’s your choice.

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Section 8

Comparative figures