Retired pharmacist: lethal dose not “swallowing a magic pill, lying down, and dying”

by Robert L. Orleck

If your failing health situation has got you thinking of ending your life through Vermont’s legalized physician assisted suicide, I have a few things to tell you before you do.  I hope you read every word and give them serious thought.

I am a retired Vermont pharmacist and periodically receive curated articles by email from a healthcare providing social network and recently received one about a Vermont pharmacist who made it his mission to deliver prescribed lethal medications to patients who were considering ending their life under Vermont’s legalized physician assisted suicide law

Bob Orleck

I entered the practice of pharmacy so I could make a living by helping people to get and stay well. I and most pharmacists had no reason to think we would have to decide one day whether to dispense medication to intentionally take a life or not. It was not a hard decision for me since I respect and believe all life from conception to natural death is worthy of preserving. Fortunately, most pharmacists have that or other reasons for not participating in such business. The article states there is only one pharmacy in Vermont willing to fill such prescriptions.

After my retirement and throughout the 2013 legislative process, I and other healthcare professionals were active in opposing the proposed law (Act 39). We tried to educate the lawmakers that there were dangers in the dosing procedure that was to be used to bring about the death of a person and that those dangers would result in botched attempts, horrific side effects and even exacerbation of already painful situations for a large percentage of dying patients. These were factual warnings. Our lawmakers are supposed to do their work to protect the public, but for the majority of Vermont’s Democrat/Progressive legislators, such warnings were ignored, and sadly physician assisted suicide became law.

Most trusting folks think that taking a lethal dose is as simple as swallowing a magic pill, lying down, and dying. The patient in the article was advised that by law she had to administer the lethal medication herself and that after she does she will become unconscious and “You will not wake up. That’s – you’ll be at peace at that point. OK?” No response is forthcoming from the patient until the question is asked as to how she feels thinking about taking the medication to which she says “Sad. I’m too young”.  

The article paints the picture of a caring pharmacist who is doing a needed service for someone who thinks she has made the right choice to end her life of disease-caused misery here on earth in order to gain “peace” in death. For others it raises the concern that instead of peace, those who die without the forgiveness that the Gospel brings, will suffer an eternity in Hell. 

The pharmacist may have told her that she will “be at peace” and while other folks might envision that there will be a beautiful, dignified death, nothing could be further from reality. The bitter tasting mixture that requires a pharmacist to compound must be by law self-administered by the patient. Some will gag taking the medication and will be unable to swallow, and some will vomit it up if successfully swallowed. Can there be any doubt that there will be botched life ending attempts? If a healthcare provider is not present to deal with the complications there will be much suffering that will come from these botched suicide attempts and no one there to help.

No reporting of side effects under the law will occur so if it is not known it hasn’t officially happened, right? The “ostrich-head-in-the-sand” attitude! There will be no remedy or fixing of the procedure and people will continue to suffer before they die, and few will know or care. There will be failures in swallowing or there will be exaggerated reactions or major side effects from the drug and some patients will not die from the drug they have taken. They will linger and suffer. Imagine the effect on a family member who might be there alone with a patient who is experiencing such a scenario.

I have not written this to rehash the unsuccessful battle we waged to defeat this legislation ten years ago but to provide information to the patient considering using the law today to end their life. The potential problems need to be considered by someone who thinks this will be a safe and beautiful way to exit the world and end the pain and suffering. 

If your state of mind to end your life is due to a serious illness, it is likely you had one or more opinions on your situation instead of relying on just one doctor giving you the news you were dying. The same reasoning you used to be sure of your physical health should apply to your spiritual health as well. If you do not know Jesus and have not trusted Him as Savior, don’t you think you owe it to yourself and your existence in eternity to explore this before you intentionally end your life? There is no redo once you are dead. Ending your life without knowing Christ is an unbelievably bad choice. You cannot fix it later. 

No matter the path we take in life we will all end up before the Creator God. Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” We will either be with Him in Paradise for an eternity or we will be in front of Him facing judgment for our sins and the result of sin is death. 

We have all sinned whether we want to admit it or not.  Romans 3:23 (KJV) tells us that “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” We deceive ourselves if we do not realize we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. Romans 6:23 (KJV) tells us “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

I am a Christian and believe that God died on the cross to pay for my sins and yours, and this is the Good News of God’s Word found in Scripture. There is a God in Heaven who loves you.  There are people here on earth who care for you and want you to know His loving plan for your life. Please don’t leave this world without knowing and seeking the Truth of the Gospel.  John 3:16 (KJV) states it clearly: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish but have ever lasting life. 

As real as Heaven is, so too is Hell and if you cross over the great divide from life to death without knowing him as your personal Savior, you will be spending an eternity in Hell.  If you have received him as your Lord and Savior, your future is an eternity in Heaven and is assured. Do you know that? If not please do not end your life before exploring the Truth of the Gospel.

There are people who care and if your desire is to find this Truth, God will guide you to someone to help you. You may already know that person.  Seek out someone who you know is a Christian or find a Bible believing church and talk to the pastor there.  

As in medicine, a second opinion about our health is important, so too is it important when considering our future after death.  If you are relying on an opinion that God does not exist or that when you die, you just cease to exist, then you should look for that second opinion on this. To ignore the need to make an informed choice is in fact making a choice and the consequences of that choice are severe and eternal.

We mark the time of our lives on earth by the years we live but this stops when we die. For those, a new way of marking time has begun. It is an eternity and there is no way to measure it in human terms. There is no end to eternity and if you enter the door of eternity without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you are choosing to be apart from Him, your Creator, forever and ever and those who do that, can never change the result. “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” Luke 13:28. (KJV)

How can you have this assurance of an eternity in Heaven?  The fundamental component of being a Christian is that you place your hope [and] your faith in Jesus. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. Romans 10:9 (KJV) My prayer is that you will do that today. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13 (KJV)

The author is a former Vermont Assistant Attorney General, retired Vermont pharmacist and past Vermont resident of 45 years. He now lives in North Carolina.

Categories: Commentary

3 replies »

  1. I appreciate Mr. Orleck sharing his thoughts on this topic. When my mom was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, she thoroughly investigated this possible route for assistance in dying. She didn’t want to stick around for the prolonged horrors which she had heard about from friends whose loved ones had died from pancreatic cancer. She had also personally witnessed multiple family members dying from other cancers. She, and our family, therefore became educated about the challenges of obtaining the drug, the fact that there is only the one pharmacist in Vermont to get it from, and the fact that you have to be able to swallow it and keep it down, etc. It is also quite expensive. She opted for voluntary cessation (stopping) of eating and drinking, instead. I wish more people knew about that option. Some people just do it intuitively– they just stop, they are done– but it is also a journey one can consciously take.

  2. Thank you for
    truthful and much needed article
    for people to realize consequences
    of what they are doing and their futures.
    Sad to see a Vermont pharmacist and his
    two sons supporting this culture of evil.
    They need our prayers, as do people and
    families contemplating this horrible choice.

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