Saturday, November 21, 2009

Guest column: As a pharmacist in the longevity concoctions business, I prefer to keep my 'oldies' alive

As Canada's Parliament debates Bill C-384, why are more pharmacists not rising up in protest over possible legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide? Is it because we ought to remain neutral? Yet if this debate is supposed to be all about choice, then, as a pharmacist, I choose not to remain neutral on an issue that could impact my livelihood.

I'm in the business of health and wellness; longevity concoctions, my specialty. I believe it is more lucrative to keep my oldies alive and kicking longer; eliminating them is against my mission statement, and it would surely kill my business too. Unless, of course, I could charge a hefty sum for how-to-exit kits, including arsenic, asphyxiation bags, and other death paraphernalia.

But then comes another dilemma; as the elderly get knocked off, replacements will be needed -- so I can continue to offer my services. Yet most pharmacies are also in the birth control business; sooner rather than later, my clients will largely come from overseas. Time to brush up on my Arab and Cantonese.

Are health-care providers prepared for the impact a euthanasia law could have on their day-to-day practice? If, for moral or ethical reasons they find themselves unable to comply with such
a law, would they risk being fined or put in prison? Would I be accused of imposing my morality were I to dissuade sweet Ms. Jones from being euthanized by her inheritance-ravenous offspring? Yes, they will all claim it was her own choice, and really, in everyone else's best interests.

How about the lady with the severe arthritis or the man with the club foot? How about the child with the MS or the severely depressed teenager? Will our answer to their pain be their death too? If the Right To Die movement has its way, it will all boil down to "personal" choice. But whose choice will it really be? For example, as a pharmacist, I had no choice over the following briefing which states that everyone should have a choice.

In 1994, a government brief was presented to the Senate Committee Studying Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide by the Canadian Pharmacists Association. This brief clearly shows that pharmacists, like the Canadian population as a whole, are "largely divided on the issue [of euthanasia] and cannot make a strong recommendation on the legalization of euthanasia or
assisted suicide." The briefing statements make it appear as though everyone involved will have a choice, but the reality is there will need to be a balancing of rights; the right of the
patient to receive what he wants, versus the right of the health-care professional not to participate in the patient's demise. For many, referral will not be a viable option.

So if such a law should pass, I want to make something clear; I want two choices; the choice not to kill off my business by concocting death potions, and also the choice not to refer my oldies or disabled youngsters for liquidation elsewhere.

But, with all our "rights and choice" talk, are we not neglecting the underlying issues causing the euthanasia debate in the first place? And why are we not learning from the Netherlands? According to Dr. Herbert Hendin, American author of, Seduced by Death, the broad "safety" guidelines to prevent people from being euthanized against their will have been largely ignored, to the point where the doctors who help set euthanasia guidelines will privately admit that euthanasia in the Netherlands is basically out of control.

What we really need to be asking ourselves is: How did the patient reach the decision to put an end to his or her life in the first place? Was there any pressure? Was there fear of pain, of loneliness, or of the unknown? Has our society become so cold and ruthless that a sick person would rather die than be subjected to humiliating treatment by those who ought to care?
The reality is that were euthanasia to be legalized in Canada, we would be embarking on a "social experiment" of great magnitude.

Once the experiment is unleashed there will be no turning back. Your "choice" and mine may become somebody else's.

Alarcon is a Vancouver pharmacist with a masters in bioethics.
Published in Vancouver on October 29, 2009 in The Province


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