Physicians Denounce Pharmacist "Conscience Clause" Protections

AUGUST 01, 2005
Ken Rankin

Pharmacists who exercise their "conscience clause" rights to refuse to dispense birth control products or "morning after" abortion pills are drawing fire from organized medicine.

A resolution passed by delegates to the American Medical Association (AMA) annual convention calls on pharmacists who object to filling a prescription for moral or religious reasons to make an "immediate referral to an appropriate alternative dispensing pharmacy without interference."

Noting that pharmacist refusals to fill prescriptions due to moral concerns "are becoming increasingly common," the AMA resolution concludes that "these developments interfere with patient ability to implement physician treatment plans and create barriers to care, patient abandonment, and potential discrimination issues."

The delegates directed AMA staff to enter into discussions with the American Pharmaceutical Association, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, and other pharmacy organizations to resolve the issue.

If negotiations with pharmacy leaders do not work, the resolution calls on the AMA to secure permission for doctors to dispense drugs to their own patients if no pharmacist within a 30- mile radius is willing to do so.

Mr. Rankin is a freelance medical writer.