Pharmacists and Doctors Turn Judgmental
After a 20-year-old Tucson woman is raped, she wastes three days searching
for a pharmacy that stocks the "morning after" pill, each day of her
search reducing the chances of the drug working. "When she finally did
find a pharmacy with it," reports the Arizona Daily Star, "she said
she was told the pharmacist on duty would not dispense it because of religious
and moral objections."
In Fort Worth, a CVS pharmacist tells Julee Lacey, 33, that she does not "believe
in birth control" and will have to get her refill elsewhere. A San Diego
County fertility clinic turns down a lesbian couple's request for artificial
insemination not, the doctors say, because of their sexual orientation, but
because they're not married. But gay marriage is illegal in California.
The American Pharmacists Association allows its members to refuse to fill prescriptions
on moral grounds, as long as they refer their customers to a more open-minded
colleague. But thirteen states have proposed or passed laws that would eliminate
the referral requirement, and the trend is accelerating. Last year the Michigan
State House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the "Conscientious
Objector Policy Act," a statute that would allow doctors, emergency service
technicians and pharmacists to refuse to treat patients or fill prescriptions
on moral, ethnical and religious grounds.
"The explosion in the number of legislative initiatives and the number
of individuals who are just saying, 'We're not going to fill that prescription
for you because we don't believe in it' is astonishing," says Gloria Feldt,
president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
When a soldier refuses an order to shoot someone, it's virtually impossible
to obtain "conscientious objector" status. A soldier who refuses to
kill faces a court martial and possible prison sentence. But when a pharmacist
refuses to dispense a drug that would prevent a woman from becoming pregnant
with her rapist's child, he's merely "following his principles"--and
enjoys the support of his state legislature.
Luke Vander Bleek, an Illinois pharmacist who says his Catholic faith led him
to fight an Illinois rule that requires him to fill all prescriptions, including
those for birth control, says: "I've always stopped short of dispensing
any sort of product that I think endangers human life or puts the human embryo
But Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich takes the side of patients: "It's
not the job of a drugstore or a pharmacist or someone who works in a drugstore
to make those decisions or to pick and choose who gets birth control and who
How can society reconcile these two competing, yet equally compelling interests?
Surely a medical professional should not be forced to perform procedures or
dole out drugs that violate his or her personal beliefs. I consider optional
cosmetic surgery--face lifts, tummy tucks, boob jobs--degrading and obscene,
symptoms of a shallow society's contempt for natural beauty and aging. If I
were a doctor, I would refuse to perform these operations or refer patients
to a physician that did. On the other hand, people should be able to walk into
a fertility clinic with the reasonable expectation of getting help to conceive
a baby--whether they're straight, gay, single or married.
Truthful advertising may prove more effective, and certainly more ethically
sound, than a sweeping ban on discretion among healthcare professionals. For
example, the Target store in Fenton, Missouri that refuses to fill birth control
prescriptions--"I won't fill it, it's my right not to fill it," Target's
pharmacist told a 26-year-old woman--should be forced to post a large back-lit
sign outside its store to save would-be birth controllers the trouble of looking
for parking. "No birth control," the sign could read, or perhaps "sluts
stay away!" Similarly the St. Louis-area Walgreens that recently suspended
its pharmacist-refuseniks for violating Illinois' don't ask, must fill rule
could post the chain's support of reproductive rights out front.