Writings and observations

In good conscience

On November 6, according to a formal complaint, a nurse from the Boise-area Planned Parenthood called a Nampa Walgreen’s drug store to inquire about filling a prescription drug order for a patient, for a drug called methergine. The drug is “used to prevent or treat bleeding from the uterus that can happen after childbirth or an abortion.” The pharmacist asked whether the patient had just had an abortion. The nurse, pointing out patient confidentiality laws, said she couldn’t answer that question.

Then, said Kristen Glundberg-Prosser of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, “The pharmacist said, ‘Well, if you’re not going to tell me that and she had an abortion, I’m not going to fill this prescription.’ And then our practitioner said, ‘Why don’t you tell me another pharmacy that I can call or another pharmacist that can dispense this medication for my patient?’ And the pharmacist hung up on her.”

The formal complaint went to the Idaho Board of Pharmacy, and an informal complaint went as well to Walgreen’s corporate offices. (Some followup action was said to have been taken, though the nature of it hasn’t become public.) The patient did obtain the medicine through another provider.

Idaho has a “conscience clause,” which “The law states that a health care worker may refuse to provide care related to abortion, emergency contraception or end-of-life care if it violates his or her conscience.” Did this case – the pharmacist’s actions – fall within it? Not clear. In a case like this, the pharmacist didn’t know whether an abortion was involved or not; was it enough to suspect so? Even if so, why should that have run afoul of conscience? After all, the operation at that point would have been over; the only effect of the denial would be retribution toward the patient, not salvation of the unborn, so what sort of personal conscience would that imply? (None I’d want to entrust my health to.)

The ending was apparently fortunate enough in this case, but what about the next one? Here we had a medical professional whose job it is to help secure people’s health and lives but instead made clear that if this woman died, that would be just fine.

Reiteration of a related point. One blog (this story has gone fully national) has this:

There are consequences to conscience clauses – and when your job is to provide medical or pharmaceutical services – there are literally lives on the line.

There’s no conscience clause protection for vegetarians (including those who are vegetarian for religious reasons), for police officers who disagree with the laws they are enforcing, for judges who are asked to marry couples (or city clerks who have to give marriage certificates to couples) they don’t believe should be married (inter-religious marriages, gay marriages, or interracial marriages – and I’m sure there are some bigoted judges out there). As I have said before, if you can’t morally do the job you’re being asked to do, get a new job. There are millions of Americans out of work right now, I’m sure there are some qualified unemployed people who would have no problem fully performing the job this pharmacist was hired to perform.

So a suggestion for anyone interested in some extremely useful civic activism: How about an organized effort to convass pharmacies, inquiring of each: Are there legal medications you would be unwilling to dispense? And then post the results in a database online.

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One Comment

  1. elgato said:

    Sometime in the past couple of years I asked a pharmacist at the Rosauers pharmacy in Lewiston if they would ever hire someone who might use that clause to not dispense a prescription. Her reply was that she didn’t do the hiring but didn’t think they would hire such a person. I told her if they did I would no longer do business there. My wife and I are a substantial account.

    January 15, 2011

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