[Right_to_die] Pentobarbital obtainable at Mexican vet. supply stores

World right-to-die news (nonprofit) right-to-die at lists.opn.org
Mon Jul 21 10:00:20 PDT 2008

The New York Times reported 21 July 08:


Tijuana is a destination for so-called death tourists.

“How about girls?”

When neither offering elicited the desired response, he tried another: 
“Cuban cigars?”

He could have continued for quite a bit longer reciting from Tijuana’s 
extensive menu of contraband. One product from this border town, though, 
trumps all others in terms of shock value: death in a bottle, a liquid 
more potent than even the strongest tequila.

The drug, pentobarbital, literally takes a person’s breath away. It can 
kill by putting people to sleep, and it is tightly regulated in most 
countries. But aging and ailing people seeking a quick and painless way 
to end their lives say there is no easier place on earth than Mexico to 
obtain pentobarbital, a barbiturate commonly known as Nembutal.

Once widely available as a sleep aid, it is now used mostly to 
anesthetize animals during surgery and to euthanize them. Small bottles 
of its concentrated liquid form, enough to kill, can be found not on the 
shelves of the many discount pharmacies in Tijuana but in its pet shops, 
which sell a wide variety of animals, as well as medications and other 
supplies for them.

“It is Mexico where Nembutal is most readily available,” says “The 
Peaceful Pill Handbook,” a book that lays out methods to end one’s life. 
Co-written by Philip Nitschke, founder of Exit International, an 
Australian group that helps people who want to end their lives early, 
the book is banned in Australia and New Zealand. In the United States, 
though, it is only a few mouse clicks away online.

The book, as well as seminars that Mr. Nitschke offers, lays out 
strategies for dying. The most trouble-free and painless form of 
suicide, he contends, is to buy Mexican pentobarbital, which goes by 
brand names like Sedal-Vet, Sedalphorte and Barbithal.

Those in search of the drug, so-called death tourists, scout out the 
veterinary pharmacies that abound in Tijuana. The shelves are fully 
stocked with tick medication for dogs, vitamins for horses and an array 
of bottles and boxes that make little sense to anyone but a veterinarian.

Mr. Nitschke’s book, however, provides glossy photos of the many 
versions of pentobarbital that are most suitable for suicide. Buying 
pentobarbital can be as easy as showing the pictures to a clerk and 
paying as little as $30 for a dose.

Pet shop clerks throughout Tijuana acknowledge that foreigners regularly 
inquire about the drug. “We’ve probably had 100 people come in asking 
for the drug in the last couple years,” said Pepe Velazquez, a 
veterinarian and owner of El Toro pharmacy.

Until El Norte, a regional newspaper, published an article recently that 
detailed how easy it was to buy pentobarbital — and how foreigners 
intended to use it — many store owners and clerks said they assumed the 
customers were using the drug to end the lives of their animals.

“We didn’t have any idea what they were doing,” said a sales clerk at a 
pet shop called California. “It’s for animals. Everything here is for 
animals. We thought they were giving it to their animals.”

It turns out that they were buying it for human consumption. Mr. 
Nitschke estimates that 300 members of his group, most of them from 
Australia but some from the United States and Europe, have bought the 
drug in Mexico in recent years. Some save it for when their health fails 
to the point that they no longer wish to live. In a few instances, 
buyers took the drug while in Mexico.

“To witness it, it looks as peaceful as can be,” Mr. Nitschke said of 
death by pentobarbital. “I usually recommend that they take it with 
their favorite drink since it has a bitter taste. I’ve never seen anyone 
finish their whiskey or Champagne. There isn’t enough time to give a 
speech. You go to sleep and then you die.”

But now that word is out that the drug is being used for human 
consumption, local authorities are seeking to clamp down on unauthorized 
purchases. Shops are now supposed to sell the drug only to licensed 
veterinarians who present a prescription.

Don Flounders, 78, has mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer 
usually linked to asbestos exposure. He had no problem getting 
pentobarbital when he traveled from Australia to Los Angeles in January 
and then crossed the border to Tijuana.

“I went into the first shop that was advertised as being a vet, and I 
showed the photo and they handed it over,” he said in a telephone 
interview from Australia. Getting it home was more of a challenge. It is 
illegal to bring pentobarbital into the United States, and Exit 
International says United States customs officers have seized the drug 
from at least three of its members. The group says no members have been 
caught with the drug by Australian customs officers.

But once he was home, Mr. Flounders, who advocates for euthanasia, 
talked to a television news crew about his purchase. He was filmed 
taking a bottle to a friend, Angie Belecciu, 56, who is dying of cancer 
and who helped to finance his trip to Mexico.

Both of their houses were later searched by the Australian Federal 
Police. Assisted suicide is illegal in Australia.

“It was an affront,” Mr. Flounders said of the raid. “I’m 78, and my 
wife is 85. I’ve got this incurable disease, and when four very big 
policemen came marching up the front steps it was very disconcerting.”

Neither Mr. Flounders nor Ms. Belecciu has used the pentobarbital, and 
charges have not been filed against either of them.

Another Australian who bought the drug in Mexico, Caren Jenning, was 
convicted in June of accessory to manslaughter because a friend, Graeme 
Wylie, who had advanced Alzheimer’s disease and had long expressed a 
desire to end his life, used it to commit suicide two years ago.

Also convicted of manslaughter in the case was Shirley Justins, Mr. 
Wylie’s partner, who opened a bottle of Nembutal purchased by Ms. 
Jenning and told him that if he took it he would die.

“The whole issue was whether this man had the mental capacity at the 
time he took the drug to end his life,” said Sam Macedone, Ms. Jenning’s 
lawyer. The court was apparently swayed by the prosecution’s argument 
that Mr. Wylie had such severe dementia that he was unable to make an 
informed decision to take his life.

Ms. Jenning has cancer, Mr. Macedone said. She faces up to 25 years in 
prison but probably has less than a year to live, he said. If he lodges 
an appeal, Mr. Macedone said, it will probably not be resolved until 
after her death.

He said it was terribly sad “that we put someone like this through all 
that when all she did was help a friend get where he wanted to go.”

Assisted suicide has emerged as an issue in Mexico, where the Senate 
voted in April to allow doctors to withdraw life-sustaining medicines 
from some patients but not to actively take steps to cause death. 
Euthanasia is also strongly opposed by the Catholic Church.

“It’s awful to me,” Mr. Velazquez, the Tijuana veterinarian and pharmacy 
owner, said of euthanasia. “I think people should live as long as God 

All the publicity over the unauthorized use of pentobarbital has made it 
somewhat harder to find along Mexico’s northern border. “Oh, no, we 
don’t have that,” said a clerk at El Grano de Oro, the answer given by 
workers approached at six veterinary shops in Tijuana’s tourist zone on 
a recent afternoon.

At the seventh shop, however, just a few blocks off Avenida Revolución, 
the clerk said the drug was in stock. She reached up to a shelf behind 
her and pulled down a box of Sedalphorte, one of the brands Mr. Nitschke 
recommends. The package bore photos of a dog and a cat and said in bold 
letters that it could be sold only with a prescription.

Asked if she would sell it, the clerk gave a confused look. “Of course,” 
she said, ringing up a bottle for $45.
"Final Exit" has given information about the availability of this drug 
in Mexico since first published in l991.   -- Derek Humphry

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