The Vancouver doctor who helped a Calgary woman legally end her life this week is concerned that B.C. healthcare workers are being discouraged from helping doctors when it comes to physician-assisted-dying cases. 

"I want the college to change to get guidelines for the nurses so that if I need a nurse I can get one," Dr. W, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban told CBC Radio's The Early Edition.

"I have nurses who are more than willing to come and assist me … and yet they can't because of their college and what their college says about it."

An Alberta court ruled Tuesday that Ms. S, identified as such to protect her privacy, would be allowed to end her life because she met certain criteria for legal exemption. This is believed to be the first known case of a legal exemption, outside of Quebec, in Canada.

It follows a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in January that said people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die.

'My pharmacist backed out'

Despite the ruling in Ms. S's favour, Dr. W says she faced difficulties preparing for the physician-assisted-dying procedure.

Dr. W says several pharmacists had promised to help her organize the doses, but ultimately they could not help her.

"I had some very supportive pharmacists ready to help me … and then the College of Pharmacists put out a notice to their pharmacists to say they should be getting a lawyer if they were considering helping a physician," she said.

"So, my pharmacist backed out."

Dr. W ultimately did find the correct drugs and dosage, but she says she had to "scramble" due to the last minute change.

With the help of Dr. W, Ms. S passed away Tuesday, surrounded by family.

College of Pharmacists defends handling of case

Bob Nakagawa, registrar of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, says no one from his group contacted or advised the pharmacists about this particular case, but noted pharmacists can be held liable for the use — or misuse — of the drugs they dispense.

Bob Nakagawa

Bob Nakagawa, of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, says pharmacists can be held liable for the drugs they dispense. (CBC)

"For any prescription, we expect pharmacists to be evaluating the prescription to ensure that it's being used for the intent, usually a therapeutic intent, that it will provide benefit to patients," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

Nakagawa says doctor-assisted death laws are still a grey area, and pharmacists need the protection of a court order before participating.

He said the court order in this case was a thorough one, but the statement sent to members about seeking legal advice was issued before the College had seen the order.

When asked about Dr. W's claim that the pharmacists showed "outrageous negligence" by not dispensing the drugs, Nakagawa objected to her "strong words."

"Considering the position we were in at the time, I think our advice was entirely appropriate," he said.

Nakagawa says any pharmacist in a similar situation should ask to see the relevant court order and make sure their participation is covered by that order.

With files from The Early Edition