Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary
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Ethics, Freedom, and Health Care Destroyed in the Pharmacy


During a recent Q&A session at our church, the issue of whether or not pharmacists should be required to dispense the "morning after pill," also known as "Plan B," was discussed. Obvious issues of morality, liberty of conscience, abortion, state power, and individual freedoms, were part of that discussion. People often wonder whether not dialogue about such things, in particular, issues related to public policy, is relevant to every day life or worthy of analysis in the context of the church. Aside from the fact that Christian ethics should always be considered a worthy topic as we face ethical issues on a daily basis, the Christian must learn to think biblically about all things primarily for the glory of God in our own lives. At the same time, it should be noted how often our theoretical discussions become headlines in the ever changing culture in which we live. No doubt the issue in question has been a relevant topic for some time, but even now it is front page news across the country.

Recently, legislators in Washington introduced a bill making it illegal for pharmacies to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control. A controversy over the right of pharmacists to withhold oral contraceptives from patients with valid doctor's orders is now growing with great rapidity and rhetoric. According to Fox News, "under the bill, pharmacists who refuse to fill any prescription because of 'personal beliefs' must ensure that another pharmacist dispenses the drugs. Pharmacies that do not stock a drug must order it immediately at the patient's request." Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey and the bill's chief Senate sponsor, opined, "Nobody has the right to come between a person and their doctor. We just want to have a bill that will say, 'pharmacists, do your job, period.'" It was only days earlier that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich compelled pharmacists in his state to fill prescriptions for what some are calling "emergency contraceptives."   The truth is, pharmacists, under threat of punishment by law, are now obligated to fill a prescription for the "morning-after pill." Obviously those who refuse to comply can lose their jobs, professional status, or worse, be convicted and sentenced in a court of law.

Another Democrat, Debbie Wasserman of Florida and a House sponsor of the bill intoned, "We have to make sure that women do not have to fight through the conscience of their pharmacist in order to get legal prescription drugs." The myopic self-centeredness of that statement is startling. Apparently, according to our cultural caretakers, conscience has no place in the health-care profession. The sentiment is not surprising when one considers that conscience has been increasingly marginalized in our pubic discussion on a number of fronts.

Speaking of conscience, refusals to fill such prescriptions occur regularly. Seven states, including Texas, where in 2004 three Eckerd pharmacists in the town of Denton allegedly refused to fill an emergency contraceptive prescription for a rape victim, have been in the news. However, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Georgia give pharmacists the right to refuse to fill prescriptions to which they morally object, though other states are considering legislation to the contrary forcing pharmacists to fill all valid prescriptions.

Pharmacists increasingly have been targeted by abortion rights activists as many of them refuse to dispense "Plan B" because of its purpose and effect. As a pharmacist told me, "I cannot dispense 'Plan B' because its sole purpose is to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. 'Plan B' is not contraception, it is abortion after conception." This pharmacist also pointed out that in his profession, pharmacists have always had a right of conscience. He may refuse to dispense any medication he does not deem is right for the patient. As Dr. Leonard L. Edloe, President and Chief Executive Officer of Edloe's Professional Pharmacies and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pharmacy at Virgina Commonwealth University says, "When it is my professional opinion that a patient does not need a drug or that the drug might harm the patient, it is my duty to inform the patient of the dangers--and in some instances to refuse to fill the prescription."

In the same way a doctor is not obligated to perform an abortion, a pharmacist is not obligated to dispense a drug he knows has no other purpose than abortion. The Illinois Governor's action is in violation of professional ethical standards in the industry and laws protecting pharmacists in this regard that are already on the books.

Al Mohler points out that "Governor Blagojevich issued his emergency regulation after Planned Parenthood activists held a protest in Chicago, charging that pharmacists were violating the rights of women by refusing to dispense the medication. The governor, who was elected with the support of abortion-rights activists, responded with his order that requires pharmacies to fill these prescriptions without question. In the governor's words: 'No delays, no hassles, no lectures.'" It is difficult to imagine pharmacists giving moral lectures. Even most Christian pharmacists refrain from such for a number of reasons. However, are we now saying we don't want our health care professionals to speak to us of the effects, risks, and consequences of the drugs we ingest? The governor's sharp tongued rhetoric is surpassed only by his short sighted bombast.

A number of issues are raised in this debate including the role of ethics in the workplace, the deception in pro-abortion activism, the arrogance of individuals without moral commitment, the erosion of constitutional rights, and the response of the Christian in the midst of such circumstances. Our comments will be limited to the first issue today, and the remaining issues tomorrow and Wednesday.

First, the role of ethics in the workplace has always been a necessity and a blessing. Individuals devoid of ethics do not have the right to call themselves professionals. Part of what makes a professional such is his/her commitment to a code of ethics in his/her practice. Health-care professionals have always lived by the commitment to "do no harm." While abortion is legal in this country, despite the fact that it is a violation of God's law, and while doctors with no moral compunction may legally perform abortions, other doctors are under no obligation to engage in such activity. Those doctors are adhering to an ethical standard which they vowed to uphold, are demonstrating their professionalism, are remaining true to their consciences before God, are submitted to an authority above themselves in issues of life and death, namely their Creator, and are to be commended. The same holds true for pharmacists who refuse to dispense the abortion pill. Do we really want health-care professionals devoid of ethical standards and moral compunction? We find ourselves on a slippery slope if we do.

[Part Two Tomorrow]


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