By Karen Brauer
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Recently, pharmacists have come into conflict with their employers by refusing to dispense forms of birth control which can cause early abortion, (failure or interruption of implantation). Time Magazine covered the story of California pharmacist, John Boling, who came under fire for refusing to dispense the morning after pill regimen.
The American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA), in response to the debates caused by this coverage, the firings of other prolife pharmacists, and the activities of Pharmacists for Life International, has decided to address the issue at the next national meeting in March.
John Gans, executive vice president of APhA, met with editors of DRUG TOPICS in New Jersey, and informed them of the policy paper which will be presented at the March meeting to the house of delegates.
In "Hot Plate", (January 5, 1998 Drug Topics) John Gans is quoted as follows:
"Do Pharmacists have a moral choice? Yes, they have a choice, but they're there to serve the patient. If a patient needs a certain type of care and has determined that he or she wants that care and it's legal to have that care, it's the pharmacist's responsibility, maybe not to provide that care, but to get [that patient] to another pharmacist who can provide that care. As the policy committee looked at pharmacists who determined, based on whatever rationale, that they did not want to brew up a cocktail to end the life of a patient or inmate, [the members decided that pharmacists] had a right to step away from it but they also have a responsibility to make sure the service is available because that is what was prescribed."
John Gans and Gary Kadlec (APhA president) also suggested that pharmacists should be up front with their employers about their moral views, and together they should lay out a plan in advance for dealing with potential ethical problems.
Without seeing the actual policy statement, one wonders if it is to cover all dispensing conflicts, including the frequently occurring disagreements that pharmacists have with physicians concerning strictly clinical matters such as dosing and disease or drug interactions. Will such a policy weed prolifers out of pharmacy practice? Why is the pharmacist's duty to the second voiceless patient carried by a pregnant woman being ignored?
Will the policy dilute the professionalism and clinical authority of the pharmacist, and will it make the six to seven years of schooling (soon to be required for licensure) less palatable to students who are considering this career? Why undergo all that training to take on a job which could be reduced to a technical function?
Will the American public wish to obtain prescriptions from practitioners who are obligate participants in the practice of abortion? Will they shift their prescription business to mail order pharmacy, to avoid pharmacists who handle the morning after pill regimen? Will year nine be the last for pharmacists to come out on top in the Gallup poll as most trusted professional?
Increasingly, we are seeing that the so called pro choice view is not about choice at all. Doctors, nurses and other health care providers should take a lesson from the plight of pharmacists and guard their hard earned autonomy assiduously.