Conscientious chemists will be forced to quit their profession if laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia are relaxed any further, a Catholic pharmacist from Wirral has said.
Rosemary Baker of Hoylake warned pharmacists that they could be ostracised and ultimately driven from their jobs if they refused to dispense lethal drugs needed for assisted suicides if British laws were further weakened by either Parliament or the courts.
Her warning was sounded in a full-page article in the highly-respected Pharmaceutical Journal this week entitled “Stop and think! Are pharmacists really prepared to assist people to die”.
Mrs Baker said that many pharmacists are presently preparing themselves for a change in the law and she asked them to consider what it could mean for them in practice.
“The pressure is on to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill,” wrote Mrs Baker.
“Already the thought process is moving from ‘will pharmacists support this?’ to ‘how will pharmacists support this?’,” she wrote.
“But what about those who cannot support such action?,” she asked. “Are we going to force them out of pharmacy?
“Are we going to say ‘you may have opted to join a profession which aims to help people to live but now you have to help people to die as well’?”
She continued: “I hope there will be provisions for those who conscientiously object but, as the practice becomes more acceptable, might we begin to ostracise those pharmacists who do not want to take part in the hope that they will eventually give in and comply?
“It is hard to take a stand against a majority and we may lose conscientious pharmacists,” she added, “not because they do not want to practise their profession but because they are not prepared to take part in an act that opposes the whole ethos of a profession based on helping people to live.”
Her appeal by Mrs Baker, a former lecture in Pharmacy Law and Ethics at Liverpool John Moores University, came as Dignity in Dying – formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society – redoubled its efforts to change the law.
The group sent four-page leaflets to 120,000 doctors, via the British Medical Journal, urging them to sign up to a new campaign.
The organisation is also planning a mass lobby of Parliament on July 4.
The fresh push follows the publication of a report by the Demos Commission on Assisted Suicide, which in January recommended that patients should qualify for assisted suicide if their doctors said they have less than 12 months to live.
The commission, funded by euthanasia activists and chaired by Lord Falconer, was severely criticised by such organisations as the British Medical Association because of the clear pro-euthanasia bias in its membership.
Senior peers Lord Carlile of Berriew, a leading barrister, and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a Professor of Palliative Medicine in Cardiff, also criticised the so-called safeguards proposed by the commission as unworkable.
Reflecting the concerns of Mrs Baker the peers said that if assisted suicide was embedded into health care there would be little to prevent nurses, pharmacists and other professionals under contract to an assessment agency from dispensing lethal drugs.
This, they predicted in a report last year, would create new dangers to children and other vulnerable people if such drugs were distributed within the wider community.
At present helping a person to commit suicide is a crime punishable by a 14-year jail term and the Coalition Government has no plans to abolish the law.
But more than 150 Britons have travelled to Zurich to die in the Swiss Dignitas suicide clinic without charges being brought against any of the family members and friends who helped them.
Guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions and backed by Parliament in March have also made it clear that no relative or friend is likely to be tried for assisted suicide unless they acted out of greed or malice.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said after the parliamentary debate that there was no appetite to prosecute people for helping their relations to commit suicide.
“There is still no safeguarded assisted dying law in the UK and this must change,” she said.