Newly Available Medicine for Medical Assistance in Dying

Only a small percentage of Canadians who have received physician-assisted dying have chosen to take the drug cocktail that will end their lives. This could change with the availability in Canada of secobarbital, the most used medicine for medical aid in dying elsewhere in the world.

Secobarbital would be the best option for dying individuals who want to control their last moments as much as possible, including when they will choose to take the drug themselves.

A specialist in physician-assisted dying, Dr. Stephanie Green, said that secobarbital is the “barbiturate of choice” because of its “quick action” that reduces waiting before death. Other drug cocktails, she said, prolong death and offer no guarantee of success.

Health Canada reports that 1982 Canadians received medical assistance in dying between June 2016 and June 2017, the first year that this assistance was legal in Canada. Only five of them killed themselves.

Dr. Green explains that medications taken by mouth can be tasteless, cause nausea or lull the patient to sleep before the entire dose has been taken, which will reduce its effectiveness. Secobarbital is more soluble than other barbiturates, which means it can be dissolved in a smaller amount of fluid, reducing the risk of the patient not taking the full dose.

Secobarbital may be useful in rural or remote areas where it is difficult to get a doctor or nurse practitioner. Some provinces, such as British Columbia, also require the presence of a physician until the patient dies, even if the patient takes the medication himself, which is impossible when the barbiturate takes hours or even days. , to take effect, said Dr. Green.

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