Some of you guys might have read about this case online when it first came to attention in the press. A pharmacist in Idaho refused an anti-bleeding drug to a woman who had a valid prescription for said drug because she thought the patient might have had an abortion. According to the website RHRealityCheck:
‘According to [the] initial reporting about the story, back in 2010, the pharmacist ‘suspected’ the prescription may have been called in on behalf of a woman who had undergone an abortion. She asked the nurse for what reason she was prescribing the …
… medication, and when the nurse told the pharmacist that providing that information would violate patient confidentiality, the pharmacist both refused to fill the prescription and refused to refer the nurse to another pharmacy.’
I read about this at the time it was initially reported, and recall being really shocked by the alleged actions of the pharmacist. A pharmacist is not a doctor, but works closely with doctors, and should understand that a doctor does not issue a prescription without a valid medical reason, stemming from bodily ailment or injury and driven by necessity. The pharmacist’s refusal to fulfil the prescription, the way I see it, could well have put the patient’s life at risk.
So, imagine my delight (not) when this week it was reported that the pharmacist in question here has been given a pass to continue to practice, without any punishment or reprimand of any kind. The pharmacist who, in black and white could have put a patient’s life at risk because they made a guess as to the cause of their symptoms, is fine to carry on doing what they do. This is scary stuff.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest had filed a complaint with the Idaho Board of Pharmacy after the prescription (which was for Methergine, a drug which helps to stop uterine bleeding) was refused to be filled. They also lodged an addition complaint that the pharmacist who refused the prescription attempted to breach privacy laws and hung up on the Planned Parenthood nurse who called in the prescription when she asked for a referral to an alternative pharmacist.
Whilst Idaho apparently does have a conscience clause that allows pharmacists to refuse certain prescriptions (something that baffles me as a UK citizen – to refuse a prescription on moral grounds would never, ever be allowed here), Methergine isn’t on the list of drugs covered by that clause, as it isn’t a contraceptive and cannot induce abortion. So, taking this into account, why wasn’t the pharmacist disciplined for her potentially life-threatening actions? I sure as hell don’t know.
The problem, it would seem, is that the State Board is charged to enforce the Idaho Pharmacy Act, which is different to the conscience clause. On the other hand, as RHRealityCheck note, the conscience clause is supposed to cover life-threatening situations. If a health care professional (i.e. a pharmacist) invokes the conscience clause in a life-threatening situation, but no other health professional capable of treating the patient is available, the professional who has invoked the clause is supposed to provide treatment and care until an alternative professional is found.
This clearly didn’t happen in this case, with some sort of conscience thing being invoked by the pharmacist (which they didn’t have the right to invoke in the first place, given that the drug in question wasn’t covered by any conscience clause) and then hanging up on the nurse calling in the prescription. Such behaviour is deplorable and, as I’ve previously noted, potentially life-threatening. It’s awful.
The way I see it, if a pharmacist has a hard time thinking about stuff like abortion (which shouldn’t even have been a consideration in this case, given the medication had nothing to do with abortion at all), and their beliefs prevent them from filling certain prescriptions, they should take a different job. It is not the place of any medical professional to judge a patient. Regardless of their personal beliefs, it is their place to provide them with the highest quality of respectful, professional care. End of.