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December 12, 2005

Scientific American on pharmacists

Editor-in-Chief John Rennie dissects a depressing new survey that finds, among other things, that 69% of pharmacists believe they should have the right to refuse filling prescriptions for emergency contraception:

That more than two-thirds of the pharmacists believe that they should have the authority to refuse to fill the prescription doesn’t surprise me. Pharmacists, justifiably, don’t want their professional judgment about whether to fill a prescription to be forced by official fiat; it’s their responsibility to intervene if a patient’s personal medical history would make filling some prescription unwise, for example. But when it comes to emergency contraception, the important issue isn’t whether they should have that authority, it’s whether they should exercise it in service to their own conscience and without regard for their patients’ moral autonomy and physical health. The meaning of that survey finding therefore seemed open to debate, when I first read it.
The more relevant finding was that about 39 percent of the pharmacists felt they should be able to refuse to fill a legal prescription, apart from another 37 percent who felt they should be able to refuse with a referral to a more cooperative pharmacist. (Only 23 percent said that a patient’s legal rights should prevail over the pharmacist’s misgivings.)
So at least when it comes to emergency contraception, almost 4 out of 10 pharmacists would consider it appropriate to brush off a woman’s legal request for services. I would have expected to see a larger portion of the pharmacist population putting the welfare of their patients before their own moral judgments.

As Rennie points out, this is vastly at odds with the views of physicians: a previous survey (also by HCD Research) found that 78% of physicians thought pharmacists should be obliged to provide emergency contraception.

Rennie remains optimistic that the pharmacists’ oath will eventually bring the profession to its senses: it commits pharmacists to “consider the welfare of humanity and relief of human suffering my primary concerns” and to “apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal drug therapy outcomes for the patient I serve.”

Trouble is, it also commits them to “maintain the highest principles of moral, ethical, and legal conduct.” That’s a catch-all that wingnut pharmacists could easily use to justify refusing to prescribe, on the grounds that such a clause has the broadest possible impact on “the welfare of humanity.”

Which of course would be BS—all that pharmacists need to care about is the welfare and suffering of the individual. But that kind of thing has never been a primary concern of the religious right.

Posted by Stephen at 4:47 PM in Health | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

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Tracked on December 16, 2005 11:57 AM