Saying No to Drugs

Human Rights

I can relate to the sign, "No shirt, no shoes, no service" in restaurants. Who wants a sweaty, shirtless person eating greasy food over a clean tablecloth? In the NYC subway, no spitting or swearing is altogether polite. But refusing to provide medication to a patient with a prescription? That seems indecent.

Reports have been filed in over a dozen states finding that women with prescriptions for birth control or "morning after" pills were turned away and not given referral to another providing pharmacy in the area. The pharmacists upheld their right to deny service based on the conscience clause by which they practice. Pharmacists cited their religious and /or ethical opposition to the nature and purpose of the prescription.

In Milwaukee, for example, a mother of six wanted to get her prescription for birth control pills filled at a Wal-Mart store and was denied access. According to WISN 12, a Milwaukee television station, another woman in the same region was told they could not fill her prescription for the morning after pill and she had to terminate the pregnancy in a clinic.

In 22 states, legislators are considering laws that would allow prescriptions not to be filled, and four states already allow this practice if it violates pharmacists' personal and religious beliefs.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that in response, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has proposed legislation that will require all pharmacies and their professional representatives, pharmacists, to "fill all prescriptions or refer customers to someone who will, despite pharmacists' religious or ethical objections to the nature of the prescription."

As a result, there is now an ongoing catfight in the Senate about pharmacists' right to refuse to provide patients with birth control pills and the morning after pill versus patients' right to have access to medication on demand.

We can look to the Constitution for guidance on issues like this, but we may not get any answers. The 14th Amendment protects people's constitutional rights, but this issue is a question of who has more clout in getting their rights protected -- an individual or a professional. Anti-abortion groups including Pharmacists for Life clearly feel that their rights and religious convictions hold more authority than women and therefore they should decide who receives medication and who does not.

Thank goodness doctors and nurses working in large hospitals and medical clinics are not allowed such a broad stroke interpretation of the law. If women are being denied the fulfillment of a medically-directed course of treatment or prevention, what is to say that pharmacists will not step in to deny access to drugs used in cancer treatment or for AIDS patients? What if we take it one step further and seniors throughout the country are denied medication which would prolong their lives?

The rights of individuals are protected in this country and should not be left to pharmacists, even though they are sworn to protect and heal people and to determine what is best for our welfare. As a woman, the right to control our body is an inalterable right. Certainly pharmacists have a right to feel their personal, ethical, and religious beliefs are being compromised by dispensing medication that goes again their beliefs. But they were aware that they would have to make such compromises long before they got into a position of professional responsibility and civic values.

Pharmacists who refuse to dispense medication should have opted to partake in a different career, such as using their skills for research. As professionals, pharmacists should offer information on use and dispensation of medication, not their particular religious convictions.

We already live in a society where those with money receive better treatment, more secure insurance, and the confidence that their health is in well-trained hands. Now we must advocate to insure that those who need medicine and other forms of treatment will be allowed to receive it without the judgment of healthcare professionals.

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