Suffering from lung cancer in late January, David Prueitt took a supposedly lethal dose of medication prescribed by one of his doctors in accordance with Oregon's...

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Suffering from lung cancer in late January, David Prueitt took a supposedly lethal dose of medication prescribed by one of his doctors in accordance with Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.


Three days later, he awoke.

The 42-year-old man lived for two more weeks before dying of natural causes at his Estacada home on Feb. 15.

Prueitt’s wife, Lynda Romig Prueitt, told The Oregonian newspaper that when he woke early Feb. 2, he asked: “What the hell happened? Why am I not dead?”

Barbara Coombs Lee, co-president of the assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion & Choices, confirmed Prueitt’s case yesterday after family members told their story to the newspaper and a Portland television station.

“He did take a complete dose and slept soundly for 65 hours,” Lee said. “Then he awakened. He suffered no ill effects. He was fully capable and competent _ and surprised.”

While such complications are rare, opponents of doctor-assisted suicide say Prueitt’s case shows why the practice is wrong.

“That’s one of the reasons we oppose assisted suicide,” said Dr. Greg Hamilton of Portland, the former president of Physicians for Compassionate Care, a group against assisted suicide. “The dying process is prolonged and inhumane, and it’s traumatic for the family.”

Oregon is the only state in which doctor-assisted suicide is legal. Under the law, a doctor can prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient of sound mind who makes the request orally and in writing and meets other requirements.

The patient must swallow the drug; it cannot be administered.

During the law’s first six years, 171 people died by doctor-assisted suicide.

Prueitt raised the possibility of suicide last year, when the pain became unbearable, his wife said. After he threatened to shoot himself, she said, she approached Compassion in Dying of Oregon, a group that helps patients and families who inquire about doctor-assisted suicide.

After going through the process of requesting a doctor-assisted suicide, Prueitt received a prescription for 100 capsules of Seconal, a type of barbiturate.

On Jan. 30, Prueitt swallowed the drug overdose, which had been mixed with applesauce and water. Also in the home were his wife, her mother, a friend and two volunteers from Compassion in Dying of Oregon.

Prueitt, weakened by the disease, could barely raise the mug to his lips, his wife said. Within six minutes of swallowing the drug, he fell into a coma, she said.

After waking up three days later, he remained alert and talkative, occasionally asking for water and cigarettes, she said.

Dr. Katrina Hedberg of the Oregon Department of Human Services said Friday that that organization has no investigative powers but would give the case to the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners or the Oregon State Board of Pharmacy if the procedues followed or the medicine itself appeared faulty.

Though her husband’s death didn’t go smoothly, his widow said she still supports the law. “I don’t want anybody to get in trouble for this,” she said. “Compassion in Dying did their job.”

Two days after Prueitt woke up, he told his wife he had been in the presence of God, she said. By her account, Prueitt said God had rejected his death by suicide and sent him back to live out his days and die a natural death.