Choose vs. refuse: Who has the right?

By Ella Peterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 14, 2005

The decision of whether or not to have children is a significant one and is legally in the hands of the would-be mother. Contraceptive use has been considered a personal decision for decades, but recent years have seen a disturbing trend among some pharmacists who have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control, emergency contraception and other medication, citing moral or religious objections.

Getting such a prescription filled can be uncomfortable enough as it is. Add now the risk of judging eyes and refusal of service from the other side of the window, and we have a downright disgraceful situation.

If a pharmacist had a moral objection to insulin, refusal of service would be clearly ridiculous. Once the obfuscation surrounding birth control issues is removed, it is plain that pharmacists should not have the right to refuse medication, life-maintaining or otherwise, to a patient because of personal compunction.

Women should not be made to feel guilty about seeking out birth control in a country as supposedly enlightened as ours; on the contrary, they should be applauded. We live in a nation where millions of children go to sleep hungry every night, starving or homeless.

If there are no resources with which to raise a child, don't have the child. The logic is simple, and many people agree with the necessity of birth control. But in the path of this common sense stand a few troglodytic pharmacists, whose personal moral beliefs should evidently override the individual's right to choose and receive their contraception.

Manipulation of over-the-counter policy by pharmacists is unacceptable; providers of medication are not a law unto themselves, and the pharmacy counter is not a pulpit.

The Supreme Court affirmed the right of married couples to make personal decisions regarding contraception in the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut. In years since, this basic right has been extended to cover every individual American citizen. Something is horribly awry when a woman can be denied much-needed birth control at the counter but a man with a Viagra prescription is met without complaint.

There is a confusing logic inherent in categorically condemning abortion in the same breath as scolding those who would prevent themselves from having to be in that position. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Every choice is wrong in someone's eyes, and ultimately, that is no choice at all.

A pharmacist, by refusing to fill a prescription, is for all intents and purposes sticking his head up out of the ether to interject in a private conversation between a patient and his or her doctor. The needs of the patient come first, and the patient's physician is the sole determiner of those medical needs.

Being a pharmacist is a profession, and as such, has certain entailments, expectations and rights. Philip Slice, a second-year pharmacy student at Midwestern University College of Pharmacy, cites a distinction between personal and professional judgment.

"If a medication has been tested to be safe and effective and it will help the person, then who am I to deny them that based off of my personal, not professional, opinion? I do believe that I reserve the right to refuse to dispense a medication only if it goes against my professional judgment," said Slice.

When just a few women at a time are faced with this problem, it is easy to brush it off as trivial. However, there is more at stake here than the inconvenience of a few.

An important piece of legislation was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate earlier this year in the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act. "ALPHA" seeks to strike a balance between the interests of both parties by proposing to allow refusal by individual pharmacists, but requiring the pharmacy in question to make sure someone else is there to fill the prescription in a timely manner.

This may turn out to be a tolerable compromise if it passes; however, if someone is not willing to comply with all of the requirements of a position, he or she should perhaps rethink his or her career choice to begin with. A pharmacist dedicates his or her professional duty to completing tasks vital to the job. If a pharmacist agrees to provide a service to patients, he or she must be willing to put personal beliefs aside rather than impose them on the rights of another individual.

If the shoe doesn't fit, find a pair that does.

Ella Peterson is a creative writing junior. She can be reached at