Monday, December 28, 2009

The Conscience of Pharmacists in the UK.

I don't know much about the profession of pharmacy. I have only used a pharmacist for various reasons related to birth control and I can't say I have an affinity for any I've encountered at the many drug stores I've been to around the world. I have gone to a pharmacy for one reason: to get the drugs a doctor has prescribed for me.

In the US we are waiting in a grey area for the US government to rescind the discriminatory Bush "conscience clause" that grants nearly anyone working in the medical profession to exercise their religious ideology to refuse services to patients. It's a horror for any woman to encounter government sanctioned discrimination for her lifestyle or reproductive needs and I hope the pressure being exerted by women's and patients' rights advocates will sway the Obama administration to deny those in positions of medical authority from abusing their power to impose sanctions on any one.

As we wait for a decision to come down here in the US, Britain is having its own battle over the exercised consciences of pharmacists. The Mail Online has a story about the questions the Council for Health Care Regulatory Excellence is asking about the continued practice there that religious ideology may be used to deny a patient a prescription for medication. From the article:

To alarm, however, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, a Government quango that oversees the health professions, is asking whether the practice should continue.

Calls for the conscience clause to be scrapped have come from pharmacists as well as groups such as the National Secular Society.

But anti-abortionists are warning the code of ethics is in danger of being ‘hijacked by an anti-life agenda’.

The consultation, which ends on January 12, is part of plans to set up a new General Pharmaceutical Council to regulate the profession.

The Department of Health denied that Ministers, who have been struggling to bring down teenage pregnancy rates, had any role in the questionnaire.

Some experts have questioned whether the clause is ‘in keeping with the rising rights and expectations of Health Service users’.

The Church of England, however, says many Christians would wish for their right to refuse emergency contraception to be preserved.

Get that? Choosing to take birth control means you're "anti life." So who should best decide when you have children? Your pharmacist.

On the one hand, I feel strongly that no one should be required to perform a service that violates their religion. Yet, this right of conscience can't impede one's performance of a task that so deeply and personally effects other's lives. If pharmacies continue to staff employees who oppose performing even the most basic duties of their job - like filling prescriptions for birth control in any form - the pharmacy should also ensure that patients have access to an employee who will do their job.

And giving entire health care organizations the right to a conscience - as here in the US has led to the second largest provider of health care services, the Catholic church, doing so with unchecked discrimination against women, gays, and the elderly - is an unconscionable denial of patients' rights.

Watching the battle over pharmacists' consciences in Britain may help us to understand what comes for us here in the US. I've used a clinic for my reproductive health care since I returned to New York. Beyond the nasty picketers outside who assume that all clinic attendees are there for abortion, I find clinics better meet and understand women's needs now that shaming and discrimination have invaded hospitals and expenses have driven many of us on the lower income brackets away from private doctors. And I've given up on chemical birth control. Thirty dollars a month was just out of the question now that I work for myself.

But I was fortunate enough to have a $500 nest egg I could put down for an IUD. (Sterilization is still completely out of the question for single, childless women who don't want to have children but also don't deem psychological evaluation - a requirement for such women to receive sterilization, as if choosing not to have children makes you crazy - as a suitable requirement for such a reproductive decision.)

In other words, like millions of women who know what it's like to manage the hassle of doctors and pharmacists when earning little income, I've found another path to reproductive services. But I recognize that I'm privileged. Such policies as the US should strike down and the UK is reconsidering do the most damage to those who don't have the same privilege and resources that I do. Not only is allowing pharmacists to decide who has effective birth control discriminatory against those who don't hold such religious values, it perpetuates the class divide in this country that has kept women without the freedoms or privacy to make their own health care decisions - most often the very women who are economically, socially, and educationally most discriminated against in the first place.

Such policies shouldn't be upheld; they should be deemed illegal.

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