Magazine article Drug Topics

Pharmacist Conscience Clause Heats Up Again across Nation

Magazine article Drug Topics

Pharmacist Conscience Clause Heats Up Again across Nation

Article excerpt


Legislation to place pharmacists who refuse to dispense some drugs for religious or ethical reasons under the legal umbrella of a conscience clause has been introduced in at least six states.

The never-ending battle over abortion is the backdrop for legislative moves in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio to enact a conscience clause for pharmacists who have qualms about dispensing certain medications. The goal is to protect pharmacists against civil lawsuits, criminal prosecution, or reprisal by employers if they refuse to dispense drugs on religious or ethical grounds. Physicians and nurses are already protected by medical conscience clauses. Pharmacists are generally not afforded the same legal protection except in South Dakota, where a pharmacist-specific conscience clause was adopted in 1998.

Legislation in the various states has taken two approaches to the pharmacist conscience clause. Kentucky Senate Bill 160 shields pharmacists who refuse to dispense drugs or devices that "may terminate a pregnancy" based on moral, religious, or professional grounds. But Ohio's House Bill 71 does not tie the conscience clause specifically to abortion. Instead, it stipulates that a pharmacist can refuse to dispense a drug if doing so would violate his or her ethical, moral, or religious principles.

In Indiana, separate bills have taken both approaches. Senate Bill 297 follows the more generalized conscience clause, while House Bill 1631 limits a dissenting pharmacist's legal protection to refusal to dispense "any medical device or drug that may result in, or that is intended to result in, an abortion."

The Kansas conscience clause legislation covers all health-care institutions, payers, and professionals, including pharmacists and pharmacy employees. The bill provides civil, criminal, and liability protection for refusal to participate in health-care services that may include abortion, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction, artificial birth control, cloning, human stem cell and fetal experimentation, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia. …

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