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British community pharmacists' views of physician-assisted suicide (PAS)
  1. Timothy R G Hanlon,
  2. Marjorie C Weiss,
  3. Judith Rees
  1. University of Bristol and University of Manchester


    Objectives— To explore British community pharmacists' views on PAS , including professional responsibility, personal beliefs, changes in law and ethical guidance.

    Design— Postal questionnaire

    Setting— Great Britain

    Subjects— A random sample of 320 registered full-time community pharmacists

    Results— The survey yielded a response rate of 56%. The results showed that 70% of pharmacists agreed that it was a patient's right to choose to die, with 57% and 45% agreeing that it was the patient's right to involve his/her doctor in the process and to use prescription medicines, respectively. Forty-nine per cent said that they would knowingly dispense a prescription for use in PAS were it to be legalised and 54% believed it correct to refuse to dispense such a prescription. Although 53% believed it to be their right to know when they were being involved in PAS, 28% did not. Most pharmacists (90%) said that they would wish to see the inclusion of a practice protocol for PAS in the code of ethics of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (CE-RPSGB) in the event of a change in the law on PAS. In addition, 89% would wish to see PAS included in the Conscience Clause of the CE-RPSGB. Males were found to be significantly less likely to favour PAS than females (p<0.05), as were those declaring an ethnic/religious background of consideration when dealing with ethical issues in practice compared with their counterparts (p<0.00005).

    Conclusion— Pharmacists view their professional responsibility in PAS to be more obligatory than a physician's, in having to provide the means for PAS. It is worrying that a proportion of the respondents prefer to remain in ignorance of the true purpose of a prescription for PAS; a finding at odds with current developments within the pharmaceutical profession. A practice protocol for PAS and an extension of the conscience clause should be considered in the event of PAS becoming legal. Such measures would allow the efficient provision of the pharmaceutical service whilst at the same respecting the personal beliefs of those who object to cooperating in the ending of a life.

    • Professional ethics
    • pharmacy ethics
    • community pharmacy
    • bioethics
    • physician-assisted suicide
    • euthanasia

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    • Timothy R G Hanlon, MSc, MRPharmS, is a Hospital Pharmacist and a Former MSc student. Marjorie C Weiss, MSc (Clinical Pharmacy), MSc (Social Research Methods), DPhil, MRPharmS, is Lecturer in Primary Care, University of Bristol, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR. Judith Rees, PhD, MRPharmS, is Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester. Address for correspondence: M C Weiss.