Monday, August 28, 2006

‘Right of Refusal’ Policy Hurts Women, Pharmacists Alike
By Teresa D. Avery, RPh.

As a pharmacist, I am deeply concerned by the Board of Pharmacy’s proposal to allow pharmacists to decline to sell prescriptions based on their personal beliefs. The proposal put forward by the Washington State Pharmacy Association and the Board of Pharmacy does not, in my opinion, represent the views of the majority of pharmacists who practice in our state. Fortunately, the board is now reconsidering the proposal, but advocates for women’s rights remain concerned about what the board may propose next.

Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals in the community, often giving free health counseling to anyone who approaches our counter. We have a long tradition of non-discriminatory practice and, I believe, that is why we rank among the nation’s most trusted professionals year after year. The public perception has always been that pharmacists have our patients’ health and welfare as our highest priority, even above our own personal beliefs.
However, a few in the profession are promoting a specific political agenda. They are attempting to politicize the profession, creating a culture of fear among pharmacists and patients alike and polarizing our religious communities. The issue of right of refusal is proving to be another area where those with specific and openly conservative views are attempting to change policy in our state.

Some argue that the proposed "right" of refusal is about a pharmacist’s individual moral or religious beliefs and the right to express them. Yet, the Board of Pharmacy’s own Mission Statement reads: "WSBP leads in creating a climate of patient focused practice of pharmacy." So whose rights are really the priority -- the patients’ rights or the few conservative pharmacists’ rights? Isn’t this proposal just a way of legitimizing social extremism by a few pharmacists while skirting the real issue at hand?

The bottom line is that this began as an issue pertaining to the reproductive rights of women, and it is coming to the forefront now because of the agenda promoted by a small and vocal group of people who purposely muddle faith and politics. It is another manifestation of the grassroots campaign that is being waged in cities and states all across the country, and it is a blatant attempt to limit access to legally available methods of birth control. However, all patients should consider that the Board’s proposal would allow pharmacists to refuse any prescription, for any personal reason. I do not believe that the religious beliefs of one person should trump the rights of another in this country.

I never dreamed that the principles of equal access to care for all that I learned at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy 16 years ago regarding the Pharmacist’s Code of Ethics would be so boldly threatened. I am deeply saddened that the progressive standards of pharmacy care in Washington are being challenged by this conservative agenda.
Despite the Board’s proposal and the Washington State Pharmacy Association’s present position, I believe that the majority of pharmacists in this state are fair minded and do not appreciate the profession being politicized in this manner. I believe that most of us are able to separate personal beliefs from professional obligations to our patients. Most of my colleagues understand and respect the long tradition pharmacists uphold. Being unbiased, non-judgmental and always respecting the fact that our patients are entitled to make choices that affect their lives even though others may not agree is the hallmark of our profession.

I strongly urge the Board to maintain the leadership role that Washington has always held in our profession by protecting the health and well-being of people, especially women, of our state; by ensuring that any patient can go into any pharmacy in Washington State and have his or her valid, legal prescription filled.
Avery is the manager of Cabrini Medical Tower Pharmacy in Seattle.

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