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March 28, 2005


I'll decide what drugs you can take, missy +

The latest group of control-freaks advocating for legislature that would allow them to tell lots of other people what to do appears to be pharmacists. The Washington Post today has a terrifying article on a topic I have been trying to avoid in the hope that it would all get sorted out before articles like this started getting written.

The topic is this: some pharmacists decide that the drugs doctors prescribe for their patients are unethical, and therefore refuse to dispense them. So which drugs are these pharmacists so morally opposed to? Viagra? Xanax? OxyContin, or other addictive drugs that are often abused? Nope! The drugs they most commonly refuse to dispense are birth control pills and morning-after emergency contraception pills. Women's rights and reproductive rights organizations are freaking out, anti-birth-control Christian fundamentalist groups are desperate to protect pro-life pharmacists, many of whom get reprimanded or fired from their jobs, and the American Pharmacists Association and lawmakers aren't sure what to do.

And women are terrified.

Kathleen Pulz and her husband got a prescription for the morning-after pill when the condom they were using broke. Their local Walgreens pharmacy in Milwaukee refused to fill it. "I couldn't believe it," said Pulz, 44, who with her husband had long ago decided they could not afford a fifth child. "How can they make that decision for us? I was outraged. At the same time, I was sad that we had to do this. But I was scared. I didn't know what we were going to do."

Suzanne Richards, 21, had a prescription for the morning-after pill that was rejected by a drive-through Brooks Pharmacy in Laconia, N.H., and by the time she found another pharmacy that would fill it, the 72 hours in which the pill had to be used had long passed. "When he told me he wouldn't fill it, I just pulled over in the parking lot and started crying," said Richards, a single mother of a 3-year-old who runs her own cleaning service. "I just couldn't believe it. I was just trying to be responsible."

Responsibility is certainly not something these renegade pharmacists are thinking about, especially those that not only refuse to fill a perfectly legal prescription, but also refuse to pass it along to another pharmacy. The American Pharmacists Association's policy for their members is that pharmacists can conscientiously refuse to fill prescriptions as long as they support their customers' legal right to get their medications some other way.

But that's not how pro-life advocates see it. The seriously misguided and delusional Karen L. Brauer, president of Pharmacists for Life, thinks it's fine for pharmacists to hold legal prescriptions hostage, refusing to transfer them to another pharmacy. She says, "That's like saying, 'I don't kill people myself but let me tell you about the guy down the street who does.' What's that saying? 'I will not off your husband, but I know a buddy who will?' It's the same thing." Yes, she is equating using birth control with assassination. Brauer was fired from a Kmart pharmacy in Delhi, Ohio, for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions.

Now this one will really drive you crazy. Brauer goes on to say, "Our group was founded with the idea of returning pharmacy to a healing-only profession. What's been going on is the use of medication to stop human life. That violates the ideal of the Hippocratic oath that medical practitioners should do no harm." Who is she suggesting is being harmed when a pharmacist fills a prescription for some birth control pills? Some unfertilized eggs? People who are being responsible and avoiding a future of child-support payments for unwanted children? Durex stockholders? The Pope?

The issue hasn't hit the courts hard yet, but here's what the article says about what's coming down the pipeline: "Pharmacists are regulated by state laws and can face disciplinary action from licensing boards. But the only case that has gotten that far involves Neil T. Noesen, who in 2002 refused to fill a University of Wisconsin student's birth control pill prescription at a Kmart in Menomonie, Wis., or transfer the prescription elsewhere. An administrative judge last month recommended Noesen be required to take ethics classes, alert future employers to his beliefs and pay what could be as much as $20,000 to cover the costs of the legal proceedings. The state pharmacy board will decide whether to impose that penalty next month.

Wisconsin is one of at least 11 states considering 'conscience clause' laws that would protect pharmacists such as Noesen. Four states already have laws that specifically allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions that violate their beliefs. At the same time, at least four states are considering laws that would explicitly require pharmacists to fill all prescriptions."

This could turn into a huge mess on the state level, and might precipitate yet another federal case on an issue that really has nothing to do with anybody besides patients and their doctors. - Amy

Attempting to regulate healthcare issues like they are ethical issues is total bullshit. Due to the sad, broken state of our healthcare system these women are most likely paying for these medications out of their own pockets, not through any kind of federal program or even private insurance (which is a whole other issue). It's ludicrous for the government to attempt to limit access to FDA-approved medications for which they are not paying, and it's a pharmacist's job to safely and accurately dispense those medications, not to pass lifestyle judgements.

To paraphrase Will Ferrell, these kinds of arguments make me feel like I'm taking crazy pills. How do people object to family planning, but allow children to live in poverty with no health coverage? How do people decide it's unethical to let a vegetative woman die, but also propose $15 billion in cuts to Medicaid with no regard for the family that will be bankrupted paying for her care? - Emily

categories: Culture, Health, Politics, Religion
posted by amy at 3:30 PM | #

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Aargh. I think stores where these pharmacists work should have to post a huge sign outside the store stating "This is not a full service pharmacy. Our pharmacists may not be willing to fill your prescription. The nearest full service pharmacy is..." I don't really think these people should be able to call themselves pharmacists. Assholes maybe, but not pharmacists.

Posted by: cushie at March 29, 2005 4:11 AM

argh ...... that is so frustrating. I am so annoyed right now.

There is seemingly no end to the patriachal/religious right stranglehold.

Posted by: Georgina M at March 29, 2005 5:38 AM

as someone who took birth control for medical reasons for several years, i find this doubly shocking. first that pharmacies and the general public are putting up with this kind of crap, and second that these people aren't aware that there are other reasons for taking birth control pills than preventing conception.

Posted by: jess at March 29, 2005 4:09 PM

the ultimate point of "The Cider House Rules" by John Irving (the novel, not the watered-down movie) is that there are things that need to be done, whether you like it or not (In the book, it's abortion). And if you have the skills or knowledge to do these things, it's morally wrong to withold those skills from those in need.

If you could foresee that your career as a pharmacist could lead you to have to fulfill prescriptions for drugs whose intended effect is counter to your personal beliefs, and went ahead and became a pharmacist anyway, then you've already made your ethical/moral decision: you don't get to make it again and again, over the counter, in the face of someone in need.

If you couldn't foresee this happening, then you're a bit stupid, and the profession doesn't need stupid people. Quit now.

Posted by: bud at March 30, 2005 6:49 AM

I wonder if these religious pharmacists would refuse to fill a viagra prescription for an unmarried man.

Posted by: Kyle Glowacki at March 30, 2005 3:12 PM

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