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WA pharmacists "conscience" won't let them fill prescriptions for vitamins and antibiotics

I’ve been following the wingnut phenomenon known as “conscience clauses” for pharmacists. This is where members of the American Taliban, posing as medical professionals whose job it is to dispense prescriptions, refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, because filling a legal prescription chosen by a doctor and patient might offend the pharmacist’s morals.

In Washington State, the legislature has been looking into the “conscience clause” issue, with all the regulars of the Religious Reich weighing in. I’ve joked about how this kind of thinking would lead to Muslim bartenders who won’t serve alcohol and vegan Hooters waitresses that won’t serve Buffalo wings., and back when I first looked at Washington State’s discussion, I wrote:

Seriously, there is no end to how these “conscience clauses” could be interpreted. Could a pharmacist who finds homosexuality “an abomination” refuse to dispense anti-AIDS retrovirals? How about a Catholic pharmacist who refuses to fill any birth control prescription? Sheesh, why not just let the Christian Scientists be the pharmacists who refuse to fill ANY prescription?

It turns out I wasn’t too far off base. The latest story out of Washington State shows how the bible-thumpers “conscience” extends to filling ANY prescription (including vitamins and antibiotics) if the prescription was merely ordered by a clinic to which they are morally opposed.

(The Stranger) Cedar River Clinics, a women’s health and abortion provider with facilities in Renton, Tacoma, and Yakima, filed a complaint with the Washington State Department of Health this week alleging three instances where pharmacists raising moral objections refused to fill prescriptions for Cedar River clients. The complaint includes one incident at the Swedish Medical Center outpatient pharmacy in Seattle. According to the complaint, someone at the Swedish pharmacy said she was “morally unable” to fill a Cedar River patient’s prescription for abortion-related antibiotics. Cedar River’s complaint quotes its Renton clinic manager’s May 17, 2005, e-mail account: “Today, one of our clients asked us to call in her prescription… to Swedish outpatient pharmacy. [We] called the prescription in… and spoke with an efficient staff person who took down the prescription. A few minutes later, this pharmacy person called us back and told us she had found out who we were and she morally was unable to fill the prescription.” (Cedar River thinks their client eventually got her prescription filled.)

The complaint also includes an incident from November 2005 in Yakima, in which a pharmacist at a Safeway reportedly refused to fill a Cedar River patient’s prescription for pregnancy-related vitamins. The pharmacist reportedly asked the customer why she had gone to Cedar River Clinics and then told the patient she “didn’t need them if she wasn’t pregnant.”

“Pharmacists should not be able to elevate their personal beliefs over the needs of the patient,” says Amy Luftig, deputy director of public policy at Planned Parenthood Network of Washington. Luftig offered several anecdotes of refusal stories–including one of a young couple seeking emergency contraception in the Central District who were lectured by the pharmacist about sex–but says most women are too embarrassed or stigmatized to go public with a complaint like the one Cedar River filed on behalf of its clients. (Indeed, until this week, pharmacy board director Steven Saxe says, the board had not received any complaints.) Luftig says Planned Parenthood is now posting signs in its clinics asking people for their refusal stories.

Refusing prescriptions – not for emergency contraception, but for vitamins and anti-biotics, fer gawdsakes! – based on the fact that the clinic that wrote the prescription performs abortions?

This festering ideological wound must be healed, and fast. How long before we see these cases?

“I can’t fill your prescription for heart medication; it was written by Dr. Blank and he works at a clinic that recommends medical marijuana, which I am morally opposed to.”

“I can’t fill your prescription for AIDS retrovirals; your medical history shows no blood transfusions or IV drug use and you’re not married; therefore you must have contracted HIV through promiscuous sex, which I’m morally opposed to.”

“I can’t fill your prescription for Viagra; it is well-known that you are in a committed homosexual relationship, and I am morally opposed to that.”

“I can’t fill your prescription for pseudoephedrine cold remedies; the doctor who wrote this prescription is Indian, and I am morally opposed to filling prescriptions written by ‘mud people’.”

If you want to be in a position to lecture people about morality, then your career choice should have been “priest”, not “pharmacist”. It is hard for me to believe this is even an issue. Don’t like dispensing medications? Don’t be a pharmacist! Sheesh! I’m morally opposed to hitting people in the face; that’s why I didn’t become a boxer. But people like this really test my morality…

[Crossposted at Radical Writ, despite any moral objections]

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