Monday, April 18, 2005

Pharmacist, Restrain Thyself

     One of the most disturbing pieces of news to come out of the new religious-right renaissance is the trend of pharmacists denying drugs to customers. Most of us don't think of pharmacists as well-educated specialists anymore. Maybe that's the problem - they're feeling underappreciated. I think the trend of seeing pharmacists work alongside 16-year olds in Eckerd and CVS has helped, along with new drug marketing that has encouraged us to treat our doctors' offices like drive-thru McDrugstores. In reality, they're highly-paid, highly-trained walking encyclopedias of pharmaceutical information and they exist to protect us from phony doctors, inadvertent drug interactions, and ourselves. It's a credit to their profession, really, that we've forgotten so much of what they do.
     Until now. Now they are on the front lines of a religious war. A war which has long since consumed our school boards and our televisions. Now pharmacists are exercising their "religious freedom" to deny their customers access to birth control pills and morning-after pills. Forget the fact that abortion is not murder. Forget the fact that taking the morning-after pill is not even abortion (it prevents fertilization). Think about pharmacists not filling birth-control prescriptions unless the customer brings in a marriage certificate. Even the Pope (may he rest in peace) never equated birth control to murder in any way. He only disallowed it for religious reasons.
     And this is why this trend is so scary. If this debate were limited to abortion, I understand that many people think it is murder. But when you allow pharmacists to not only refuse to fill a prescription but refuse to give it back on the grounds of religious belief alone, you open the door to nightmare scenarios. Imagine you are involved in a car accident in the middle of the night and the only emergency room doctor is a Jehovah's Witness who doesn't believe in blood transfusions. Imagine this doctor decides it would be against his or her religion to give you one and you die in the hospital, the blood that could have saved your life only inches away? Or imagine that your father suffers a heart attack, but the ambulance driver is a Christian Scientist who decides not to drive you to the hospital because taking you to receive medical treatment is against his religion.
     I'm not vilifying Jehovah's Witnesses or Christian Scientists (except Christian Scientists who, because of their beliefs, allow their children to die without medical treatment). But what makes you think that if we allow one wacko pharmacist to deny emergency contraception to a customer because of his religion, we won't allow other people to do the same? One freakshow columnist in Tucson, AZ compares a pharmacy to a bookstore in that nobody disputes the right of a bookstore to not sell certain books. That might be the case if I ever had an emergency need for a book (Harry Potter notwithstanding). Pharmacists have no "right to choose" any more than a doctor can choose to not treat a patient, any more than the DMV can decide they don't want to renew your license, any more than the volunteer at the polling station can decide not to let you vote. If you don't want to dispense birth control, don't be a pharmacist. Thankfully, despite the fact that 11 states are considering "conscience clauses" allowing pharmacists to deny service, there are some brave politicians willing to stand up to the religious intifada. Democratic governors Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois have (temporarily) stopped this practice in their states and Congress is considering a law to prevent it. Don't let the religious wing take over America. Seeing less of Janet Jackson isn't worth the loss of our fundamental freedoms.

21 comments:

ORF said...

I think I should perhaps leave my commentary at this:
As a woman, and therefore potential consumer of birth control, and as someone who has thanked the stars for the existence and availability of the Morning After pill, this entire subject makes me extraordinarily f*cking mad.

Way to sleuth out those news stories, Scott. Slow day at the office?

Shannon said...

My panties are really in a ruffle now. I simultaneously feel enraged and utterly disappointed in America.

I agree if you don't want to dispense such medication, don't become a pharmacist. There's probably a reason why many Jehovah Witnesses aren't doctors.

That I know of, anyway.

Scott said...

Well, yes it is, actually. I probably won't be able to post daily forever, but it feels really good to get all these ideas down on paper... on the computer ... after years of telling myself I'd write them down. And luckily (or unfortunately) there's no shortage of issues yet.

Ben said...

Pharmacists should not deny customers anything. Those that want to should find work in a Christian Scientist drug store.

SaraS said...

You'll get no argument from me on this one!

I have often wondered about what would happen with a Jehovah's Witness doctor myself. All of the materials I have read about the blood issue talk about it from the point of view of a JW patient, not doctor.

Mike said...

Ok. First off in full disclosure, I'm against abortion. I believe life begins at conception and to snuff out that life is murder. I have a child and after seeing a little hand wave at you at the 14 week ultrasound, it's hard to think otherwise. That being said, the judges ruling (notice I didn't say "the law") says you are entitled to have one so there is nothing I can do about it. As far as pharmacists, they should be entitled to sell whatever they want to sell. They don't work for the government. If they did that would be a different story. But until then, if you have to walk to the Eckerd because the CVS won't sell the morning after pill, too f*cking bad. If it's legal there will be a market for it.
Scott, your analogies of the blood bank and the ambulance make no sense. If someone didn't believe in those things they wouldn't be in those jobs. What hospital would hire them? And calling the morning after pill an "emergency" situation? Come on. A heart attack is an emergency. Getting pregnant is irresponsible.
Finally, so much talk about the right-wing imposing our beliefs on others. I submit it is the left-wing imposing their beliefs. The right-wing just wants to give pharmacists the right to choose (I thought the left valued choice? hmmmmm). You guys want to take away that right and force pharmacists to submit to your morals. I say good for the pharmacists.

Scott said...

Mike, forgetting abortion for a moment, because neither birth control nor emergency contraception is abortion. Both prevent fertilization and conception, they do not destroy a zygote or embryo.
You ask what ambulance company would hire an ambulance driver that did not believe in medical treatment? What pharmacy would hire a pharmacist that did not believe in dispensing the drugs prescribed to a patient? What if the pharmacist was preventing the patient from filling a heart drug because it violated the pharmacist's religious mores? In at least one case, not only did the pharmacist refuse to fill the prescription, he refused to return it so it could be filled by another.
The right to choose ends at the limits of your own body - not somebody else's. You twist a woman's words when she says she has the right to choose for her own body, you say, "but don't I have the right to choose for her body too?"
Many of the proposed bills don't allow pharmacies to base their hiring on whether the pharmacists will or will not dispense drugs. How's that for "right to choose"?
And as for your question of who would go into such a job in the first place if they didn't agree with it, how many creationists get PhD's simply to have to juice to refute evolution? How many get elected to the school board simply to remove real science? How many anti-UN people try to become the UN ambassador? (OK, there's only one of them, but I thnk the point still stands). For religious extremists who believe that other people must conform to their beliefs, no personal sacrifice is too small in their zealot cause.
Frankly, it's more than a little insulting to equate access to medicine with the right to play God while working at CVS. Mark my words - the extremists will find that this issue will push them over the edge with the American public, and there will be a backlash. Millions of Americans can take the high horse and say they don't care if the right to an abortion is taken away because they'd never have one. But when the Right starts forcing ordinary Americans to answer religious questions to the guy behind the counter at Eckerd in order to get a bottle prescribed by a doctor filled, you will see the end of this burgeoning theocracy.

Mike said...

"burgeoning theocracy"?

Scott, do you actually believe the words that come out of your mouth? Frankly, what is insulting is this suggestion that evangelicals want to rule the world. I'm afraid you're in the minority here, my friend. Last time I checked the statistics, something like 80% of Americans believe in God and something like 60% go to church. I hardly call that a radical movement. I would call that the majority.
You don't dispute the fact that people would still have access to the morning after pill. Maybe it's not at the pharmacist of their choice, but they can still get it. Even if they don't get the pill they can still get an abortion, which the left tells us is perfectly safe and legal. Shoot, you can even get a free one if you can't afford it. So what's the big deal? Why do you insist on forcing your idealogy on the rest of us? Like it or not you are forcing your beliefs on that pharmacist. That makes you the burgeoning theocrat.

ORF said...

Ok, Mike, I'm sorry but I couldn't stay quiet about this.
You are right, getting pregnant is indeed extremely irresponsible and how many 15-year-olds (and even 20 and 30-somethings) in less than ideal situations have been so irresponsible as to get pregnant, have the kid and wind up on the welfare dole, ushering another mouth to reside below the poverty line, overcrowd schools and run up medicaid costs? If those girls had more ready access to birth control and/or the morning after pill, I firmly believe that the level of "irresponsibility" might be drastically reduced in this country. What is irresponsible is bringing a new life into the world with no means of providing for it in the proper way.

I've used the morning after pill and it had positively NOTHING to do with being irresponsible. My boyfriend and I were using a condom, as we always did, but this one broke. And in the interest of BEING responsible, I went to the doctor so as to prevent the possibility of getting pregnant at a time in my life when I had no business being pregnant. There was little chance of my actually getting pregnant in spite of the condom breaking, but we both decided it would be far more irresponsible to chance it than to spend the $50 to get the pill. It simply wasn't worth the risk.

Shit happens when you are having sex, and I don't think it matters which branch of the left/right tree you subscribe to to understand that. Being holier-than-thou doesn't guarantee condoms or a sexual constitution of steel to anyone. We are so fortunate to have this protection available to us and choosing whether or not to administer a certain pharmaceutical product is entirely different from carrying Miracle Whip over Hellman's. It's not about taste or price, but the imposition of one person's values over those of another. It is a shame that pharmacists are not made to adhere to the same code of "do no harm; treat everyone equally" that doctors must (or are supposed to) in their practice. Perhaps it is a licensing issue that sorely needs addressing.

Mike said...

ORF, I can't believe I'm the only one who sees the contradiction in your arguments. In back to back sentences you said, "It's not about taste or price, but the imposition of one person's values over those of another. It is a shame that pharmacists are not made to adhere to the same code of 'do no harm; treat everyone equally'" You guys whine about people imposing their values on you and then you turn around and say you want to impose your values on pharmacists.
I'm going to keep coming back to this until someone convinces me otherwise. You can go to another pharmacist and get your pill, so what's the big deal? If that's a big inconvenience, you should have thought about that before you took your pants off. Condoms break. Everyone knows they aren't 100%. So take responsibility for your own actions. If you're not ready to have kids, don't have sex. That's not imposing my beliefs, that's just advice.

Scott said...

Mike,
You never answered my question: How would you feel if the pharmacist denied you emergency heart medication because it was against his Christian Scientist religious beliefs and refused to give you back your prescription? Would you take comfort in knowing the pharmacist believes you're about to go to heaven in, oh... 30 minutes?

Mike said...

Scott, I didn't answer it because it is a ridiculous situation that is totally unrelated to this topic. One is a life or death situation, the other isn't. If I were 30 minutes from dying, I would be pretty pissed at my doctor for sending me to the pharmacist to fill a prescription. I would hope I would be in a hospital. And if I were 30 minutes from dying and the doctor refused to treat me (and I challenge you to find one concrete example where this actually happened) I would ask for another doctor.

Ben said...

I'm with Scott on this one, but I with Mike in that I tire of hearing Scott talk about the religious right trying to take over the country and push their beliefs on others. They are doing no more of that than Dan Rather did ont he evening news, or most liberal arts college professors do with their students, or Jeanene Garafalo does on her radio show. The difference is that the religious conservataves are better at it, because their messages are not always shrill and negative. At any rate, every group with a belief in some ways tries to push their viewpoint on others. Villify the religious right for their beliefs, but not for doing what every other interest group on Earth does, which is recruit.

sideshow bob said...

Damn it Scott, you make so many good points it is hard to back you up without simply repeating your comments.
It is simply amazing how moral and noble and high-minded people without a uterus are when it comes to birth control and abortion and things of that nature.
I wonder if these pharmacists check to make sure a man is wearing a wedding band before dispensing a prescription for Viagra. Or how about if they decide that rather than taking antidepressants, the severely depressed and suicidal person just needs to try prayer.
The bottom line is that these prescriptions are given by a doctor who has full access to the patients medical history, has looked at all the facts and symptoms and such, and decided what is best for the patient. Many times birth control pills are prescribed not for preventing pregnancy, but for correcting hormone imbalances or even for reducing ovarian cysts, which, if untreated, can become life threatening.
God I can't wait for the rapture. Lord, thy people are a wet blanket unto us. Please leave us to burn in the hellfires in peace.

Mike said...

For the record, I have nothing against contraception. Many people believe the morning after pill is just a form of abortion. I share that view. If I were a pharmacist I probably wouldn't sell the MA pill either. And I think for you guys to insist someone must be forced to do something they think is murder is wrong. You guys are the ones imposing your beliefs. Not the evangelicals. They have just asked not to participate. You guys applaud students who don't participate in saying the "Pledge of Allegiance" in school, what's the difference?

sideshow bob said...

The problem with the people who think that the MA pill is abortion/murder....IS THAT THEY ARE WRONG! They couldn't be more wrong. There is nothing there to abort! The pill prevents fertilization. That's really not murder any more than tossing your tissue in the trash after, how should I say this...enjoying yourself, shall we say. That is probably the main problem most people have with the religious right on many issues; they don't have an understanding of the science behind the issues. Why should we have to indulge these ignorant pharmacists? If they don't wish to do any more research than finding out Pat Robertson's position on any given subject, that's their right. But it's not their right to impose their ignorance upon the rest of us.
As for the Pledge of Allegience, I think all but the most extreme left of the extreme left would actually applaud students not giving the Pledge.
It's kind of analogous to the whole abortion thing. I can't think of an instance where I would advise someone to have an abortion (aside from a life threatening situation), and I've definitely never stood outside an abortion clinic doing the wave as the ladies walked out, but I so support their right to choose for themselves...whether killing their babies or saying the Pledge. And really, what speaks more to the greatness of our nation, forcing kids to do the Pledge of Alligience or having them (even if it's not every single one of them) say it off their own free will?

Mike said...

Ok, I've done some reasearch on the MA pill. You guys are incorrect in saying it prevents fertilization. It prevents the embryo from attaching itself to the lining of the uterus. So in effect it is preventing (or aborting, if you will) the pregnancy. If things were allowed to follow their natural course, it would result in a pregnancy and later a child.

ignerens said...

Seems obvious to me.
1- Pharmacists don't have the right to choose anything. They're working on other people's bodies. Their "choice" is automatically an imposition of their beliefs on their patient. Pharmacists are just there to count to 30 and slap a label on those little bottles.

2- The official policy of Walgreen's et al(described here) is condescending nonsense. The only to explain them is that corporate just sketched it out to make its employees feel more appreciated. But notice, that in the end the customer still gets their prescription filled. Ideals do not measure up against lost sales.

3- I knew Scott in college and I have never never seen this many people agree with him on anything. He must be right.

Sylvana said...

Mike, you say that "our" beliefs are being forced on the pharmacists, ect so we are hypocrites to complain about having beliefs forced on us. Well, we are talking about two different kinds of beliefs- one is just backed up by the person themselves and maybe the church, while the other is backed up by LAW that was made by people representing the people of this country as a whole. See the difference?
Not all towns have a plethera of pharmacies to choose from , and most of these pharmacist I would guess are found in small towns. Plus, poor people don't always have the option to just jump in their car and run around looking for a pharmacist that isn't filling from a pulpit.
AND pregnancies can't always be avoided. It must be so nice to be a guy who doesn't ever have to be in a situation to make these weighty decisions- but can still say they know what's best. ALSO how could you say "they can always get an abortion"? Why let it get to that point when there are far less traumatic ways of dealing with reproductive issues? You say that as if getting an abortion is such an easy thing for a woman to go through.
AND although your statistics might say that 80% of people in America believe in God, they are not all religious zealots bombing abortion clinics and threatening the lives of judges for passing laws that they don't agree with or in this case refusing medical treatment to people in need.

Ben, although I do agree that everyone is pushing their agendas, I do not agree with your description of the religious reich not being negative and shrill. Saying that Terri's husband was a murderer/adulterer and that the judge just wanted her to die? Or bombing clinics that do abortions? Or calling out for a reckoning on judges that will not do what the religious reich wants- even insinuating that their lives are at stake? Plus, on every college campus at least once a year, these "not negative" people flood the place and scream at everyone about how they are going to hell. And that's just a sampling, because I have to go back to work.

Sylvana said...

SSB, Well said.

Mike said...

Seems like there's a double standard here where anyone who goes to church and votes for Kerry is "normal" and anyone who goes to church and votes for Bush is a nut that bombs abortion clinics.
Point of order. Why must you guys always call it the "religious" right? I don't call it the "unreligious" left. I don't think it's fair to link being religious with being conservative as if they were synonomous. There are not. I think it is perfectly possible for someone to be religious and be for big government and have no problem with abortion.