Senate Considers Revoking Pharmacist "Conscience Clauses"

Pharmacy Times
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A pharmacist's right to refuse to dispenseprescription contraceptives orother drugs on moral or religiousgrounds would be revoked under newlegislation now being debated on CapitolHill. The bill, introduced by Sen.Barbara Boxer (D, CA), would requirepharmacies to "fill all valid prescriptionswithout unnecessary delay orinterference."

According to Boxer, the legislationis a response to growing complaintsfrom women "about pharmacists refusingto fill prescriptions for contraceptivesbecause of their personal beliefs,not their medical concerns." Arguingthat "access to pharmaceuticals shoulddepend on medical judgments, notpersonal ideology," she warned Congressthat, unless action is taken toaddress this problem now, "tomorrowpharmacists could refuse to dispenseany drug for any medical condition."

Under the proposal, all pharmaciesthat accept reimbursement from Medicaidor the new Medicare Part D drugprogram would be federally obliged tofill any valid prescription-notwithstandingreligious considerations orstate "conscience clause" laws protectingpharmacists from being forced todispense drugs that create moral problemsfor them.

"That means, if the item is not instock, the pharmacy should order itaccording to its standard procedures,or, if the customer prefers, transfer it toanother pharmacy or give the prescriptionback," Boxer explained. In seekingSenate support for the bill, the CaliforniaDemocrat stressed that her proposalwould not interfere with valid "medicalreasons" for declining to honor aprescription, "including problems withdosages, harmful interactions withother drugs, or potential drug abuse."

Boxer also attempted to defuseobjections that the measure wouldoverride the religious beliefs of pharmacists."In this bill, it is the responsibilityof the pharmacy, not the pharmacist,to ensure that prescriptions arefilled," she said. "Pharmacies canaccommodate their employees in anymanner that they wish, as long as customersget their medications withoutdelay, interference, or harassment."

Mr. Rankin is a freelance medical writer.

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