Pharmacists Should Follow Medical Ethics

Article excerpt

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Michael Weinstein For The Register-Guard

What are pharmacists' rights and responsibilities when they are asked to dispense a medication that runs counter to their moral values?

The press has paid a lot of attention to this question, and legislators in various states have issued calls to action. The issue has been presented variously as one of morality, religious freedom, women's rights and the free-market economy.

Although all these concerns come to bear, the matter should be addressed by the straightforward medical ethics that pharmacists ought to follow. The medical profession would see the solution to this quandary as fitting into fairly accepted rules of behavior.

As physicians, we value our partners, the pharmacists, in delivering care to our patients. Pharmacists' role in medical care has become increasingly important as more and more treatments rely upon pharmaceutical management. The array of drugs available and the complexity of their actions tax the skill of medical providers as well as the trust and financial resources of patients.

A pharmacist who believes a drug will harm a patient medically is obligated to discuss this with the dispensing physician. A pharmacist who still feels there is a problem should hold off on dispensing the prescription until discrepancies can be worked out. This is good medicine that benefits patients.

Refusing to dispense a prescribed medication on moral grounds is a different issue. No one should force pharmacists to dispense drugs that they feel conflict morally with their inner beliefs. However, any pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription on a moral basis has an ethical obligation to state the reasons for this decision, and to refer the patient to a pharmacy that will dispense that medication.

This also applies clearly to physicians. A physician who does not prescribe a medication or perform a procedure because of moral objections is obligated to explain and to refer the patient to another physician. …