Uppity Pharmacists

The Thinker by Rodin

From today’s Washington Post:

Some pharmacists across the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and morning-after pills, saying that dispensing the medications violates their personal moral or religious beliefs.

To that small minority of pharmacists out there incapable of doing their jobs professionally: it’s time to get another profession. You are in the wrong business. Find some profession where your personal and moral beliefs won’t be so challenged. Sunday school teacher perhaps. Maybe Randall Terry will pay you to stand outside abortion clinics and heckle women going in and out all day. One thing is for sure: if you can’t put your convictions aside and do your job you must not be a pharmacist.

News flash: lots of us are called on to do things every day that violate our personal and moral beliefs. I am a federal civil servant. I find the policies of my ultimate boss, President Bush, to be reprehensible. Still, when it comes time to act on one of his dubious and unconstitutional policies like giving tax money to religious charities I follow his instructions. No, it’s not because I like them. Yet I do it anyhow. Why? Not just because I took an oath, but also because it is part of my job. It is my obligation. I cannot pick and choose which parts of my job I will and will not do. Neither can you, Mr. Pharmacist. So either suck up your personal beliefs like the rest of us or get out of the profession. But don’t tell some paying customer that you won’t fill their perfectly legal prescription. And especially don’t confiscate the prescription in the process, as apparently at least some of you have done.

We have a process in this country. It’s called the law. And part of the law delegates to certain professionals what drugs may be prescribed. The doctor who wrote the prescription has already exercised his legal and professional judgment that the medicine is appropriate for the patient. In many cases, like the woman in the article, they can’t spend days running from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for a pharmacist who will fill their prescription. They may need the medicine immediately. You have no way of knowing and it is not your job to make any assumptions. You are not a judge. Your job is to fill the prescription, answer questions the patient may have about the medicine and take their money. It is not your place to impose your moral judgment on others, such as refusing to provide birth control pills to a woman who might be unmarried. That is a decision she makes, not you.

I think all drug store chains need a clear zero tolerance policy prominently displayed at the pharmacy window. For starters I suggest: “All legal prescriptions are welcome here. We will not employ any pharmacist who refuses to fill any prescription.” But apparently we now need laws to require that prescriptions be filled. It used to be you never gave a second thought that any pharmacist would go against a doctor’s judgment. It appears those nostalgic days are behind us.

I guess we are fortunate that at least physicians take their Hippocratic Oath seriously. There needs to be something with similar teeth in it for pharmacology profession. A doctor cannot usually provide the necessary patient care without the prompt cooperation of a neighborhood pharmacist. So renegade pharmacists are really undercutting the ability of the doctor to perform timely treatment. Rather than respecting the dignity of the patient, these renegade pharmacists are trampling on the dignity and human rights of patients by denying them their right to medicine. Sadly at least some of these renegade pharmacists will scold and humiliate these customers them in the process.

My thanks of course to the vast majority of professional pharmacists out there who have faithfully, promptly and professionally provided the drugs my family and I have needed. I hope these errant pharmacists are few and far between.