I had a run-in with a pharmacist not long ago. I’d left my half-finished bottle of antibiotics in Vermont, so back in Boston I had my husband write me a new prescription. The pharmacist balked and told me it was “unethical” for a spouse to write a prescription and she would not fill it. After first wondering why I was being penalized for sharing my husband’s last name, I asked on whose authority she was denying me my prescription. She clarified that my husband’s behavior was “unethical” because the Massachusetts Medical Society or some such “strongly discourages” (or was it just “discourages”?) doctors from prescribing medicine for their family members.
I said, Okay, sure, let’s agree in general terms that prescribing for family members isn’t a great idea. Guess what, priggish pharmacist gate-keeper? You’re not the decider! Why do you get to deny me my legally prescribed damned pencillin? Surely the oversight of “discouraged” but entirely legal medical practices is not in the purview of the local pharmacist. Right?
At least I don’t live in Kansas, where a new law empowers capricious pharmacist-ethicists to deny any medication or device that, in their opinion, might bring about the termination of a pregnancy. The law leaves it up to individual pharmacists to figure out both what such medicines or devices might be and if they have a moral problem with them. As others have noted, the law could even allow denial of chemotherapy for a pregnant cancer patient.
At least I don’t live in Ireland, unlike this poor woman who died last month:
The woman, a 31-year-old dentist named Savita Halappanavar, died at University Hospital Galway on Oct. 28. An autopsy carried out by the hospital two dayslater found that she had died from blood-poisoning and an infection known as E.coli ESBL, according to a report in the Irish Times. News of her death became public on Nov. 14 following an interview that her husband gave to a newspaper. Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she began to suffer from back pains last month, her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, explained in a second interview on Nov. 14 to Ireland’s RTE radio. She was quickly brought to hospital, where medical staff told her she was fully dilated, was leaking amniotic fluid and would miscarry her child, her husband said. He said that the hospital staff informed his wife that the miscarriage would only take a few hours. Three days later the fetus died inside Halappanavar’s womb, he said. During this period Halappanavar was in extreme pain and continually asked doctors to terminate the pregnancy, her husband said. Staff refused, according to Praveen Halappanavar, on the grounds that they were prohibited from performing abortions by law and that they could not remove the fetus until its heart had stopped beating. Praveen Halappanavar told the Irish Times that they also refused on the grounds that “this is a Catholic country…”