Thursday, June 11, 2009

Column for Dane101: Pharmacists should do their jobs

I write a column for a local blog called Dane101, which focuses on issues pertaining to Dane County, Wisconsin. I will be posting my columns periodically on this blog as well, but do check out their site too. It's chock-full of goodies for Dane County residents. Pharmacists should do their jobs

On the 44th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court case that granted women privacy rights with regard to contraceptive devices, Pro-Life Wisconsin held a series of special protests across the state in favor of pharmacists that refused to dispense contraceptive medication due to religious convictions.

While you’d think that the right-to-life movement would support birth control methods as a means to prevent unwanted pregnancies (thus reducing abortion in the country), you’d be wrong; any sexual behavior, in their view, should only be had with the intention of conceiving children. Such a viewpoint disregards basic rights one has over their own body, and favors a system of government where the state can interfere with what goes on in the privacy of one’s bedroom.

It’s through such thinking that pharmacists argue they have a religious right to deny a person contraceptive devices. Most notably, pharmacists in Wisconsin and abroad have begun to deny women Plan B, the so-called “morning after” pill, which prevents sperm from fertilizing a female egg but does not terminate an already-fertilized one. Such emergency contraception is especially valuable to victims of rape or incest, who fear the possibility of having a child as a result of their personal traumas.

While the debate is controversial, one may find themselves laboring pretty hard to choose a side on this issue. On the one hand, a woman’s right to determine when to have a pregnancy should be respected; on the other hand, religious beliefs ought to be respected as well. We don’t want to force pharmacists to perform an action contrary to their religious convictions; but we also don’t want those convictions forced upon women who may have differing beliefs. Put another way, this debate is a battle, for some, over which of the two rights is more absolute.

In this instance, however, it would appear that the woman’s right overrules the pharmacist’s. His or her job is to dispense drugs prescribed to patients, not to play God over a person’s life. It’s the definition of their occupation – after all, pharmacies don’t employ Christian Scientists, who believe in the power of prayer over medicine, do they? Doing so is not only detrimental to the patient, but also bad for business!

We’ve also got to consider which right, if violated, would be more detrimental to either party. The pharmacist may be outraged by their having to fill the prescription out, but ultimately it’s the woman seeking her medication, especially if it’s emergency contraception, who would be more wronged by being forced to have a pregnancy she didn’t want to have.

Thus, a woman’s right to prevent a pregnancy outweighs a pharmacist’s right to deny her medication on religious grounds. At the very least, a pharmacist with strong, religious convictions should be required to direct a woman seeking such medication to another pharmacist willing to fill it; it would be understandable, however, if we required more from them, and mandated that pharmacists fill out every prescription that comes to them. After all, we expect them to perform that task for other medications; why shouldn’t we expect it for ALL medications?

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