Opinion

Plan B: Do pharmacists get to play God? | Amy Johnson

Imagine you go to your health care provider for something very personal. Perhaps you had a birth control failure — the condom broke or you forgot to take your pill for a couple of days. These things happen. Your trusted health care provider writes you a prescription for emergency contraception.

At the pharmacy, not only are you refused, but receive a lecture from the pharmacist. Hypothetical? Afraid not. It happened here in our state just a few years ago. Even though a 2007 rule requires pharmacies to dispense all legally prescribed medications, the subject is in the news again.

Several pharmacists recently brought suit (Stormans v. Selecky) against Washington state, saying that the current rule forces them into “choosing between their livelihoods and their deeply held religious and moral beliefs.”

Their objections are over the dispensing of certain drugs, such as Plan B, an emergency contraceptive that lowers the risk of pregnancy by up to 88 percent if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Though some consider it an abortifacient, the pill has no effect on women who are already pregnant. Last week, Washington's Board of Pharmacy changed the 2007 ruling, allowing pharmacists to refer patients to another pharmacy.

Before you start going all "religious freedom" on me, consider that these experiences and controversies are not limited to Plan B prescriptions. Prior to the 2007 rule, a diabetic young man in the Tri-Cities who tried to purchase clean needles at a pharmacy to administer his medication was refused. Women in Tacoma and Spokane who needed a drug called misoprostol prior to surgery were not only refused it, but accused of wanting it for an abortion.

At a time when people are loudly decrying the lack of personal freedoms in our country, this issue continues to niggle away at my sense of logic, fairness and freedom.

I’m thinking that if I were that diabetic teenager and couldn’t get my life-preserving, legally prescribed needles because the pharmacist made a faulty assumption about why I really wanted them — I would not be feeling so free right now.

If I were refused medication of any kind and received a lecture from any pharmacist looking at my legal prescription, I would not be feeling very free. I would feel like members of one religious group get to, at their whim, make decisions they think are best for me — which, last time I checked, was one of the reasons those pilgrims left the tyranny of England and its church several centuries ago.

In the name of common sense, I appeal to logic. If someone sees a physician, and in the privacy of that visit, they decide on a medical course of action that includes a prescription, then that person should be able to have the prescription filled.

Why don’t they just go to another pharmacy? This option is actually under advisement by the Pharmacy Board as an alternative. Consider the large portion of our state that is rural, with only one pharmacy around for miles. Besides, is it really moral to subject a person to going from one pharmacy to another in order to find someone who “agrees” with their prescription?

This is a slippery slope. The Pharmacy Board needs to come down clearly on the side of mandating the dispensing of legally prescribed medication.

Whose freedoms will win? Will the pharmacy board essentially give individual pharmacists the right to veto any legally written prescription? Will people be allowed to receive their legally prescribed medication at any pharmacy? What does it mean to live in a free country?

You have the opportunity to voice your opinion. Comments are being taken at fortress.wa.gov until Nov. 30.

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