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The RPS policy on assisted suicide addresses many questions

Although it was good to see an update on the progress of the Westminster private members’ bill on assisted dying reported in last weeks’ editorial (2014;293:98) we were disappointed that no mention was made of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society policy and the amount of work RPS staff have already undertaken to support the profession, should this legislation be passed. 

The RPS policy was developed across the three national boards, with an expert working group from all sectors of the profession, and a member reference group. Although taking a neutral stance to accommodate the spectrum of views among our members, the policy addresses many of the questions you have raised in the editorial, providing guidance, support and a framework for the finer details you mention, including the requirement for robust protocols, governance and a conscience clause.

The policy covers many sensitive areas linked to assisted suicide, including the need for improved access to palliative care in some therapeutic areas. It has been used to inform the bill team constructed by Lord Falconer to draft the bill under discussion and to engage with relevant politicians in Westminster and Holyrood, which has its own Assisted Dying Bill progressing through the Scottish Parliament.

This has already resulted in changes to the proposed legislation in England and Scotland. The RPS policy has also been used to inform discussions with other royal colleges to raise awareness of pharmacy issues and that the role of pharmacists goes far beyond supply. The policy is available on the website at www.rpharms.com/policy-pdfs/assisted-suicide—201301.pdf and, as always, we welcome members’ feedback. 

Aileen Bryson
Policy and Practice Lead for Scotland

Charles Willis
Head of Public Affairs
Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066056

Readers' comments (1)

  • During my 16 years in England, I spent three years (1995-98) working as a caregiver – living with and caring for several elderly people suffering from advanced dementia. I saw first-hand how this disease leaves its victims trapped in a truly terrifying, living hell – with no way out except fading slowly and somewhat agonizingly into a merciful death. I often felt my charges were closer to anxious zombies than human beings – and did often wonder about the ethics of prolonging life as long as possible under those circumstances.

    My time as a carer left me decidedly unwilling to experience that kind of ‘life’ myself. As such, I can say hand on heart that the day I’m diagnosed with dementia is the day I start making moves to check out. When it comes that kind of illness, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

    Perhaps we should be a little more like Latin America – where people appear to embrace and celebrate death rather than attempting to ignore it and lock it away behind closed doors, as westerners seem inclined to do?

    Raising awareness

    This year, I self-published The Carer, a short e-novel based on my time as a live-in geriatric nurse. Described as a “gritty urban thriller with a social conscience”, The Carer offers a “Faustian tale of elder abuse, patricide by proxy and the corrosive effects of power.” You can buy The Carer for USD0.99 from Amazon and all other major ebook retailers.

    Scott Nelson
    Halifax, Nova Scotia

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