Truth Through Combat

Should Pharmacists Be Allowed to Refuse to Sell Some Drugs?

Of course they should. Here’s my argument:

1. Merchants should have the right to sell what they want to sell (in other words, the government should not be telling merchants what they should and should not sell).

2. Pharmacists are merchants.

Given the above, it follows that merchants should be allowed to choose what they do and do not sell.

The controversy has arises over whether pharmacists should be allowed to refuse to sell birth control. Some pharmacists do in fact do refuse to sell some forms of BC. Here are some stories:

A paper for or against my argument would address the following issue question: Should pharmacists have the right to refuse to fill prescriptions?

In keeping with the argument above, I am thinking of it along these lines: Imagine a Quickie Mart owner that refuses to sell condoms. Is he within his rights to do this, or is he violating some ethical rule by doing so? It seems to me that while men and women might have a “right” to purchase condoms, they don’t have a right to purchase condoms from that specific Quickie Mart owner. If he doesn’t want to carry them, then it seems like the same sort of thing as refusing to sell beer, or soft drinks.

But, you might ask, is the store owner the same as a pharmacist? After all, the pharmacist is a professional and not merely a store owner. Shouldn’t his/her responsibilities extend further?

I would say they do not. My argument for this — in addition to the above — is that there are tens of thousands of places in this country where one can get a prescription filled. Therefore there seems to be room for individual pharmacists to follow their conscience. It’s just like the Quickie Mart owner: if you can’t find what you want at his/her store, then drive another block and you’ll probably find another.

I suppose there are a few towns still around with only one pharmacy, and in those cases there might be some problems. But consider the statement of the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA), the group that represents about 53,000 pharmacists in the U.S. Here’s their “conscience clause”:

  • “APhA recognizes the individual pharmacist’s right to exercise conscientious refusal and supports the establishment of systems to ensure [the] patient’s access to legally prescribed therapy without compromising the pharmacist’s right of conscientious refusal.”

This seems to be the right approach: allow patients to get serviced without compromising the pharmacist’s conscience. If there could be a perfect solution to the problem, this would be it. No one would be harmed by such a solution. In other words, it should be possible to design a solution that would get the patient his/her drugs without involving the pharmacist with a conscience problem.

In some of the larger chains, perhaps the issue will be resolved simply by asking another available pharmacist to handle the prescription. In some of the smaller places, it might be a bit more of a hassle. In the end, however, what is the potential harm to the patient? There could be a delay, but that seems a small price to pay for not forcing a professional to violate his or her conscience.

Here’s the APhA’s full statement on issues of conscience:

Filed under: Bioethics, ,

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