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Druggists want right to say "no" to certain medications
Seattle Times reporter
It was supposed to be a simple informational meeting about whether to allow pharmacists to deny medication based on their moral or religious convictions.
But more than 100 people showed up at a state Pharmacy Board meeting in Kent on Friday to speak emotionally about highly charged social issues — from abortion to gender discrimination and even assisted suicide.
The featured speakers were from Planned Parenthood and Northwest Women's Law Center, both of which say a proposal before the Pharmacy Board would discriminate against women by limiting their access to medication like emergency contraception.
But dozens of people — doctors and homemakers, students and lawyers — spoke overwhelmingly in favor of the measure. They said that without it, some pharmacists will continue to feel complicit in moral wrongdoing.
"How do you navigate this land mine?" asked Ron Shafer, who heads the Washington State Pharmacy Association and supports the measure. "We're never going to make everyone happy."
At the heart of the debate is a proposal put forward by the pharmacy association, a private trade group, that would allow pharmacists to act as "conscientious objectors" when faced with filling prescriptions that go against their moral or religious principles and require them to provide patients with other "options."
The Pharmacy Board plans to hold public hearings around the state in coming months. The seven-member panel, composed of five pharmacists and two from the public, is appointed by the governor. If approved, the proposal would become a state statute.
Seventeen other states are currently considering measures that have "pharmacist refusal" or "conscience clauses" in them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Pharmacy boards in Wyoming, Nevada, North Carolina and Massachusetts have already said pharmacists don't have such rights. The national debate was inspired, for the most part, by the emergency contraceptive, commonly called Plan B, that the Food and Drug Administration approved in 1999 but which some people consider a form of abortion. Some pharmacists have refused to dispense it.
But the Pharmacy Association said its proposal is also meant to anticipate other issues. For example, some pharmacists worry that if assisted suicide is legalized, they could be forced to dispense drugs used to end someone's life.
The Pharmacy Association in Washington said their members are confused about their rights. Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the Northwest Women's Law Center point to a collection of state statues that they say strongly "implies" a pharmacist's duty to dispense medication regardless of their religious views. But there is no state statute that specifically deals with the issue.
Gov. Christine Gregoire sent a letter opposing the proposal to the Pharmacy Board.
"This issue goes far beyond women's access to contraception, but appeals to the right of all patients to have their prescription filled without judgment or discrimination," wrote Gregoire.
But some at the meeting said that forcing pharmacists to fill prescriptions against their religious beliefs was also a kind of discrimination.
"For me to go to work, and leave my heart and my morals at home, I can't do it," said Allison Pham, 23, a student at the University of Washington's School of Pharmacy.
Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or email@example.com
Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company