‘Pharmacists sometimes refuse to give doctors euthanasia drugs’

Dutch pharmacists sometimes refuse to provide the drugs needed by people who have chosen to end their lives through euthanasia, the NRC reports on Wednesday.

Euthanasia has been legal in the Netherlands since 2002 under strict conditions and if approved by two doctors.

More than half of doctors working for the independent euthansia clinic say they have been refused the drugs on the grounds that pharmacists do not agree euthanasia is appropriate for a particular patient.

Most refusals concern ‘controversial’ cases, i.e. patients who have dementia, a psychiatric illness, or who consider their lives ‘complete’. Some pharmacists refuse on religious grounds, the NRC says.

Minister

The issue is the subject of the television programme Altijd Wat Monitor which will be broadcast on Wednesday and which has already prompted MPs from the left-wing green party GroenLinks to ask for a debate with health minister Edith Schippers.

Although only doctors have the legal right to decide about euthanasia, pharmacists’ asscociation KNMP thinks pharmacists have a right to their own opinions.

‘A pharmacy is not a shop where deadly drugs are just handed over’, an association spokesperson told the programme.   

During the programme one doctor complains that his painstaking and regulated preparations for euthanasia are sometimes blocked at the last minute by a pharmacist who ‘has never even seen the patient.’

Legal requirement

Although they have no official role in the euthanasia process, pharmacists are not legally obliged to make drugs available, the NRC says. According to KMNP’s Annemieke Horikx, controversial cases divide doctors as well as pharmacists.

‘If you don’t agree you can’t continue’, said Horikx who also claims that doctors call pharmacies at the last moment. ‘They say: “Get me the medication and be quick about it”. That’s no way to request medication. These are matters of life and death we’re dealing with. We also hear from pharmacists that the doctors concerned are unknown to them’.

The KMNP wants pharmacists to become part of the euthanasia law. It should also be possible for pharmacists who do not wish to cooperate to refer a doctor to another pharmacy, the association told the programme.

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