Ethics expert calls for drugs to enhance death

Ethics expert calls for drugs to ‘enhance’ death

By Jeremy Laurance,
The Independent.

It might be termed the hallucinogenic way of death. Psychoactive drugs such as “magic mushrooms” could be used to enhance the experience of dying, according to an expert in medical ethics.

Robin Mackenzie, director of medical law and ethics at the University of Kent, is to call today for people to be given more choice over how they die at a workshop in London organised by Exit International, an Australian organisation advocating voluntary euthanasia.

Studies are underway into the effect of drugs including ecstasy and psilocybin in terminal cancer patients to ease the process of dying and encourage closer family bonding in the final hours. But there is widespread resistance to the use of psychedelic drugs.

Ms Mackenzie said: “We have the technology to enhance the experience of dying. With neuroimaging [brain scans] we can measure the impact of different practices, such as meditation or drugs, which would allow us to orchestrate our dying, just as we choose the form of a funeral service.”

Interest in ecstasy has centred on its “empathogenic” effects, fostering a sense of well-being and warmth towards family and friends. It and psilocybin are also being investigated for their effect on anxiety in terminal conditions. A study at the University of Los Angeles is due to complete in December and research is also ongoing in Spain.

Today’s planned workshop is due to be hosted by Philip Nitschke, the Australian founder of Exit International, who has been nicknamed “Dr Death” for his DIY suicide kit. A similar workshop was banned in Bournemouth on Friday by the local authority.

Dr Mackenzie said: “My research into the demedicalisation of dying suggests that there is a groundswell of people wanting to exercise choices in dying beyond euthanasia and palliative care options.

“We are encouraged to manage our lives and managing our deaths could be part of that. I can see good reasons why doctors don’t want to be involved. But that will increase the demand for self-help measures.”

UK’s The Independent reported that ethics experts believe that psychedelics should be available to enhance and demedicalise a persons death experience.