Thursday, 31 January 2013

On selling the morning-after pill

There was an short bit in the 'News Bulletin' in today's Telegraph about whether pharmacists should be allowed not to sell the morning-after pill without a prescription.

Right now,pharmacists do not have to sell the pill; they can refuse on religious or moral grounds. For example, staunch Catholics running a pharmacy would be allowed to refuse to sell a morning-after pill as they believe in the sanctity and miraculousness of life. As the old saying goes, God gives life and therefore only he should take it away.
For some, the morning-after pill is a form of abortion. As debatable as this is, perhaps it is fair to give people a choice based on their beliefs.
Under current legislation pharmacists who refuse to sell the pill have to direct the customer to another pharmacy/provider of the pill. Hmm. Some academics have argued against this policy. They say that either the pharmacist should be required to supply the pill or refuse completely, without being required to direct the customer elsewhere.
Why? They argue that in directing the customer somewhere else it's essentially the same deal as giving them the pill in the first placed. A bit like a drug dealer saying, "No, I'm not selling you weed today, I'm opposed to people getting addicted to drugs and spending all their money on drugs instead of food and electricity bills. But Fred down the road's got some, if you want."

The fact that pharmacies are allowed to sell birth control without a prescription in the first place(this has been allowed since 2001) is controversial.
But what is exactly is wrong with what we have right now? If the pharmacists are deluding themselves that referral is not the same as supply, then let them be deluded. That way you get the best of both worlds; suppliers can keep to their moral and religious beliefs, and we can still prevent unwanted pregnancies.

It would a different case if the pharmacy was in a small town miles from anywhere, i.e if birth control wasn't available anywhere conveniently nearby. Right? Then, because the girl wouldn't be able to buy the pill, there might be unwanted pregnancies and painful, mentally scarring abortions.
Actually, the girl could just go to her doctor and get a prescription for the pill. The pharmacists can only refuse to sell the pill if the customer has no prescription. Therefore by simply getting a prescription the patient can get the pill from the exact same pharmacy.

Perhaps I haven't researched the subject enough, but it doesn't seem like the current situation is really negatively affecting anyone. If it were the pharmacists complaining about having to refer customers elsewhere, then I would perhaps understand. What's the point of refusing to supply the pill if you're just going to give them another way to get it? But it's not the pharmacists that are complaining. They're fine with the policy, or so it seems so far. Their hands are clean. Well, clean enough.  We shouldn't impinge upon someone's beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs are.

The piece in the Telegraph is based on a paper published by the Journal of Medical Ethics.(I've linked the free extract here, as the full article is available only to subscribers).
The paper is discussed in an article in the Huffington Post, if you'd like to find out a little more.
The American Pediatrics Journal has published a free(rather long) article on the same subject. There is also a related paper discussing the relationship between conscience and jobs in the Journal of Medical Ethics.
This case makes for interesting reading, at least. Perhaps the reason I don't agree with these researchers is that I haven't read their full paper(it's only available to subscribers or if you're willing to pay a fee). But I feel that the current situation is a neat, if slightly paradoxical, solution.

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