Magazine article Drug Topics

Will Oregon Pharmacists Have to Dispense Death?

Magazine article Drug Topics

Will Oregon Pharmacists Have to Dispense Death?

Article excerpt

When Oregon voters approved a ballot measure last month that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with prescription drugs, they handed pharmacists a dilemma that has raised more questions than it's answered.

The so-called Death With Dignity initiative was approved by 51% of Oregon voters. The law allows a terminally ill patient to ask a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to be self-administered. Two physicians must agree that the patient's condition is, in fact, terminal. The patient must repeat the request three times, the last in writing. There is also a mandatory 15-day waiting period to allow the patient to have a change of heart.

Given the Dec. 8 effective date, the first day a prescription for a lethal dose could land in an Oregon pharmacy is Dec. 23. And that has led many R.Ph.s to pick up the phone for some guidance from the Oregon State Pharmacists Association, said Chuck Gress, executive director. Many callers are seeking answers as they confront an issue that he said has polarized the profession.

The first question asked is whether the attending physician has to write on the prescription that it's for a lethal dose. The answer is No, said Gress. Pharmacists also want to know what constitutes a lethal dose; what if the patient enters a vegetative state; what about counseling a patient who intends to die? These queries, and more that are likely to arise, remain unanswered.

"It's an evolving situation," said Gress. "We're working with the board of pharmacy to develop guidelines to dispense drugs under protocol, and we have established a task force of pharmacists and interested individuals to work on the pharmacy aspects of implementation. …

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