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The Atlantic Boosts Assisted-Suicide Doctors, Pushes Euthanasia

by | Mar 4, 2021

By Wesley J. Smith

The media love to boost assisted suicide. They laud people who commit it — witness their swoon over the late Brittany Maynard — and the doctors who are willing to lethally prescribe or give lethal injections.

Now, The Atlantic goes there bigly, describing the experiences of two California doctors who assist suicides. But I want to focus on one: Lonny Shavelson, whose excesses and assisted-suicide enthusiasms I have been writing about for years.

Shavelson was a part-time ER doc and photo journalist. Fascinated with assisted suicide, he wrote a journalistic book about the subject called A Chosen Death. Decades later, when assisted suicide was legalized in California, he went into business, helping to kill people for $3,000.

Of course, the media has gone gaga for him. In the Atlantic piece, byline Katie Engelhart, the scribe mentions Shavelson’s book and the heart-rending situations he reported. 

But she leaves the most important story out — Shavelson’s witnessing the murder of a disabled man who changed his mind about wanting to die. From A Chosen Death:

His good hand flew up to tear off the plastic bag. Sarah’s hand caught Gene’s at the wrist and held it. His body thrust upwards. She pulled his arm away and lay across Gene’s shoulders. Sarah rocked back and forth, pinning him down, her fingers twisting the bag to seal it tight at his neck as she repeated, “the light, Gene, go toward the light.” Gene’s body pushed against Sarah’s. Then he stopped moving.

Not only did Shavelson not try to stop “Sarah” — a pseudonym for someone described as a Hemlock Society chapter head — but he never called the police about the killing. Rather, he describes just sitting there watching, wringing his hands. If you want to read that description from Shavelson’s book, hit this link.

The guidelines are supposed to protect against abuse. But even though Shavelson does not treat his “patients” — his is strictly a suicide “practice” — and even though he is not board certified in treating illnesses such as cancer or ALS, and even though he barely knows the people who come to him, he colors outside the lines: From “I’m the Doctor Who is Here to Help You Die:”:

One man had terminal cancer but said he wanted to die now for financial reasons. He was a Vietnam War vet, he said, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the Agent Orange attacks. He wanted all his savings to go to Vietnamese victims—not to pay his way through some awful American nursing home. Another had ALS and didn’t want to lose her mobility. She “hated her disability and she died early,” Shavelson said. “She was still walking.”

Sometimes, Shavelson felt like he was refining the eligibility rules as he went. What if, for instance, a 103-year-old wanted to die but didn’t have a specific illness or condition? Could you assume that he had just six months left to live? Sure, Shavelson thought, as long as he scored high enough on a “frailty index” test.


He also circumvented the self-administration requirement of the law:

Soon, he was delivering the drugs directly into feeding tubes, when patients had them. He would load the medication into a plastic syringe and then hand the plunger to the patient, who would press down on it to “self-administer” and “ingest” the drugs. Sometimes, if a patient was weak, Shavelson would hold the plunger himself and place the patient’s hand on top of his. “If I feel you pushing on my hand,” he would say, “we will push together.” These were legal deaths. And often lovely deaths. But in a way, the whole thing was ridiculous.

Later, Shavelson started administering the drugs rectally for patients with disturbed intestinal systems.

Englehart reports on Shavelson getting final consent for an assisted suicide from a cancer patient. See if you can see what is wrong with this picture.

“What are you dying from?” Shavelson asked. Then again, louder.

“I’d like to know myself,” Bradshaw said.

“Dad, you have to be serious,” Marc said. Bradshaw said nothing for a while and then recalled that something was wrong with his prostate.

“Okay,” Shavelson said, smiling, “We have a bit of paperwork to do.” Bradshaw groaned. “As you can imagine, the state of California doesn’t let you die easily.”

Shavelson held up a document. “This little paper here is called the ‘Final Attestation.’ The state of California wants you to sign, to say that you are taking a medication that will make you die.” Bradshaw closed his eyes.

“Dad,” Marc urged. “Dad, you have to stay awake for a few minutes … Daddy, you need to sign, right?”

“Dad,” Cheryl said. “Sign your name.”

Bradshaw opened his eyes and signed.

Did the man even know what he was signing? How could Shavelson give him a poisonous brew when Bradshaw appeared to be following his children’s orders?

The entire piece is actually a criticism of assisted-suicide guidelines and a pitch for lethal-injection euthanasia:

In other countries, I knew, none of this would be happening: the juice, the labored sips, the shaking hands. But in America, doctors were in a special bind. 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. They want their doctors to take care of things. Also, the shots are straightforward and quick and always work. No stress about mixing the solution. No chance of vomiting or waking up, which can happen, albeit very rarely, with the liquid drinks.

All in all, a splendid dark example of how the media is continually pushing euthanasia and assisted suicide. No opponents’ voices allowed and no doubts about the agenda entertained.

The article says Shavelson is quitting his suicide practice. Good. Go back to taking photographs, death doctor!

Editor’s note. Wesley’s columns appear at National Review Online and are reposted with his permission.

Categories: Assisted Suicide