Scientific American published a biased little op-ed in their October 2005 “SA Perspectives” titled “Fill This Prescription” concerning pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions that they consider harmful, saying,
It is tempting to wonder how far the principle of denying medicines for ethical reasons could stretch. Could one who disapproves of homosexuality refuse antiretrovirals to an HIV-positive gay man? If suffering is good for the soul, can one refuse to give out pain medication? But the pharmacists are not really fighting for a broad entitlement to morally judge which prescriptions to fill. And it is unnecessary to play “Where will this stop?” on an issue that already threatens women’s vital reproductive rights.
The editors evidently believed that “blocking pregnancy” when there is a human embryo in existence prevents abortion and that pharmacists should learn and practice the art of suppressing their consciences. They also seemed unaware that – or not at all interested in – there is a very good chance that Preven and Plan B, the “morning after pills” in question may prove to be ethical for those who believe that it is permissable to prevent conception but not ethical to end the life of one conceived.
But, they can’t be all bad, because they published my letter to them in the February 2006 issue.
Letters to the editor are not scientific documents and are limited in the amount of information that can be included, with restrictions on the number of words used and they are to the general readership of the publication, if not (as this really was) an attempt to change or effect the editor’s viewpoints. So,for those of us who are pro-life and sticklers for absolute accuracy in terms we use, I’d like to explain a few things:
My letter is not as precise as I would like: I use the terms “morning after pill” to mean the protocols that the editorial mentioned although I know that not all “morning after pills” are the same. I also understand that there are some who object to all artificial contraception. And the use of the word “enforce” may very well mean more than I intended, especially to all the lawyers and law enforcement officers out there.
Nevertheless, here’s my letter:
“Fill This Prescription” [SA Perspectives]
contains factual errors and false assumptions.
You state that when a woman has a prescription filled by a pharmacist, her “health is at the mercy of her pharmacist’s
conscience.” As a physician and a patient, I do not want pharmacists to suppress their consciences. Pharmacists protect patients and aid physicians. We depend on them not only to dispense medication correctly but also to judge interactions with patients’ other medical regimens and conditions. They act on knowledge that the physician or patient may not have about the risks from a given medication. They also determine a prescription’s legitimacy and enforce it.
The latest medical data indicate that morning-after pills block ovulation when they work. There is no evidence that they stop the implantation of an embryo.
Some other points: in nature, human pregnancy begins in the fallopian tube at fertilization; birth control that prevents conception is not synonymous with abortifacients; and the difference between dispensing abortifacients or antivirals is that the former is intended to end the life of a human being, whereas the latter is intended to save it.
Beverly B. Nuckols
New Braunfels, Tex.
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