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Speaking as a Pharmacist

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 05/13/05 12:09

by Dave Mindeman

I happen to be a pharmacist and I hope that people don't get the impression that there are a lot of pharmacists in Minnesota who refuse to fill birth control pills as a matter of "conscience". That is not the case. As in every profession, there will be people who think that their own moral compass must be the guide for everyone. The vast majority of pharmacists do their jobs and complete the orders that your doctor has instructed for you via the prescription in a timely and routine manner.

These cases of pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions are not standard practice. Unless the pharmacist had an extensive conversation with the patient about their medical history, I would be surprised if the pharmacist in question really knew what the oral contraceptives were for. Birth control pills can be used for other purposes. Irregular or painful menstruation is a common non-contraceptive use. Oral contraceptives are made up of female hormone combinations.. they are not some unusual chemical compound.

But to simply refuse a prescription for a personal moral reason is crossing a line that no profession should allow. I realize the pharmacists in question would say they are acting for "life", at least by their own definition, -- but anyone in any medical profession knows this issue is not black and white, live or die.

The biggest thing I object to here is the copout coming from the employers of the pharmacists. I guess they think they are not offending anyone by saying they are leaving it up to "individual conscience".

Well, I have a problem with that. If my individual conscience can enter in these kind of business decisions, then I will exercise my right of conscience and refuse to collect those $3 co-pays on prescriptions for the indigent. I will exercise my right of conscience when the State of Minnesota refuses to pay for a more expensive heart medication because it doesn't fit into their "cheap" formulary, by giving these patients their legislators phone number. I will exercise my right of conscience when a person of modest means comes to my pharmacy to purchase an expensive drug that I know can be purchased in Canada for half the amount, by helping them to the website. My employer would say I do not have the right to exercise that type of "conscience", and if I did those things I would in all likelihood be fired.

Oral contraception has been a part of our lexicon for several decades now. As the militant anti-abortion community stretches their influence under a permissive right leaning government, we will see the boundaries of allowable behavior stretched to the limit. If this type of argument, used against contraception, is to be consistent, then why aren't they boycotting the fertility clinics? In vitro fertilization accounts for large numbers of discarded fertilized eggs. Yet they turn their heads because to deny infertile couples an opportunity at having children would certainly have a negative effect on public opinion -- oral contraception is easier to complicate because education on the issue can be interpretive.

It is a sad commentary on our times that when a woman walks into a pharmacy to get a prescription filled, she has to risk subjecting herself to an embarrassing and awkward "moral" lecture. If a pharmacist does that to you, don't get mad, get even. Take your complaint to corporate headquarters. Take your business elsewhere and tell your friends to take their business elsewhere. Complain to your insurance carrier and demand an explanation of why a pharmacy contracted with them would be allowed to refuse a legitimate prescription. Complain to your doctor and make sure he documents your complaint. And finally, complain to the State Board of Pharmacy. They are reluctant to get involved at the moment because pharmacists do have some discretion about filling prescriptions because of narcotic situations. However, oral contraceptives do not meet those criteria and if enough complaints come in, they can and will issue a board directive which could allow for disciplinary action.

Please do not judge my profession on the few "wing nuts" that exist in it. Pharmacy has always had an exemplary reputation in the public eye. It is too bad the actions of a few have to blacken it.
comments (2) permalink
02/13/07 12:49
Its as safe as birth control pills. Emergency contraception pills are not abortion pills. If a woman is pregnant at the time she takes the ECP it will not abort an embryo. WBR LeoP
05/16/05 16:22
Thanks for that post Dave! It is always good to be armed with the best info on what to do to be effective in countering the actions of these few people who are poisoning your chosen profession!

Besides you, I know several other non-wacko pharmacists--even a Republican one in that ugly Red state of Ohio where I grew up.

I think I need to write her and tease her by asking whether she has refused to fill any Rxes lately!

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