Physician-assisted Suicide

Ongoing Challenges for Pharmacists

Jennifer Fass and Andrea Fass


Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2011;68(9):846-849. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The pharmacist on duty at a community pharmacy in Oregon receives a phone call from a local physician who says he intends to write a prescription for a lethal dose of secobarbital to end a patient's life. The physician says that in his oncology practice, patients occasionally request physician-assisted suicide, which is permissible in Oregon. Now he has a patient who is suffering from cancer and has less than six months to live. The physician asks if the pharmacist is willing to dispense the medication.

Situations such as this already occur in Oregon and two other states, raising a number of important considerations for pharmacists, including patient counseling issues, legal requirements, moral and ethical concerns, and possible consequences for refusing to dispense the medication. So far in the ongoing controversy over physician-assisted suicide, the major focus has been physicians and patients. However, in most cases a pharmacist plays a large role in physician-assisted suicide—not only as a member of the interdisciplinary patient care team but also as the dispenser of lethal doses of medication.


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