In contrast to the hype that you might read on blogs and in the press, the Federal District Court judge in Washington has upheld the law of that State. The basic right to not be forced into action that one considers unethical or immoral – the right to liberty – was upheld first, by the Washington State Legislature and affirmed by the Court.
According to the Seattle Times article, there will be a trial next year and the “rules were meant as a compromise after long, contentious hearings and intervention by Gov. Christine Gregoire, who threatened to replace members of the Board of Pharmacy who didn’t vote to protect women’s rights.” (Emphasis mine, BBN.)
The judge ruled in favor of State Law and overturned regulations passed by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy which were changed in July of this year to require that “pharmacies must maintain at all times a representative assortment of drugs in order to meet the pharmaceutical needs of its patients.” The plaintiffs, two individual pharmacists and a corporate pharmacy were asking to be allowed to follow their previous practices “refuse and refer.”
Judge Ronald B. Leighton issued an injunction that delays the force of the regulation, since it appears that the regulation violates laws passed by the Washington State legislature to protect the rights of individuals:
“As a part of the Health Care Access Act, the legislature expressed the recognition “that every individual possesses a fundamental right to exercise their religious beliefs and conscience.” RCW 70.47.160(1). The Legislature further acknowledged that “in developing public policy, conflicting religious and moral beliefs must be respected.” RCW 70.47.160(1). Accordingly, the Legislature provided that “no individual health care provider, religiously sponsored health carrier, or health care facility may be required by law or contract in any circumstances to participate in the provision of or payment for a specific service if they object to so doing for reason of conscience or religion.” RCW 70.47.160(2)(a). No person may be discriminated against in employment or professional privileges because of such objections. RCW 70.47.160(2)(a). The right of conscience, however, is not intended to result in a patient being denied timely access to any service included in the basic health plan. RCW 70.47.160(2)(b).
“An identical right of conscience was included within the Insurance Reform Act adopted by the Legislature in 1995. RCW 48.43.065.”
(emphasis in italics are mine, BBN)
The regulation itself was poorly written.
The phrase “at all times” is a big problem. Would that mean that all pharmacies must change their hours so that they are open or on call 24/7? As to the phrase, “representative assortment,” that might mean different things to different people. The wording open to the widest interpretation, however, is the phrase, “pharmaceutical needs of its patients.” (Let’s forget that pharmacies don’t have patients, pharmacists do.)
The “pharmaceutical needs” of patients is wide open to interpretation, especially in the case of Plan B. I’ve covered the evidence (here) that indicates that Plan B only works to prevent ovulation and fertilization the 5 days or so of the month before and the day of ovulation and the lack of evidence that it acts in any way as an abortifacient. Unfortunately, this isn’t acknowledged in the court’s ruling or by any of the other parties in the case.
I depend on pharmacists to evaluate the prescriptions I write for my patients. They have often helped me by catching and refusing to fill scripts because they knew about drug interactions, allergies, and fraudulent prescriptions when I didn’t. I would like for them to notify me if they refuse to fill my scripts, but their professional judgment is the very thing we physicians and patients are depending on, isn’t it? If we force them to do what they believe to be wrong, the only pharmacists we’ll be left with will be people who will do wrong because they were “only doing their job.” (Where have we heard that before?)
There’s an especially over-wrought emotional discussion over at the Women’s Bioethics Project blog. No posts are published without the permission of the author, who evidently has some pretty strong feelings involved. I added to the intensity of the silliness and self-righteousness with my comments, I’m afraid. (So far, they haven’t posted my remarks from 12 hours ago about cigarettes as a legitimate treatment for priapism [an old remedy – no longer advised – that was actually used as late as the ’80’s], prescribing of wine as a relaxant, and the fact that I make it a policy not to prescribe medications until they are on the market long enough to be proven by lots of other doctors’ patients.)
As Mick Jagger sang, “You can’t always get what you want. . . but you can try sometimes to get what you need.”
(edit – typos fixed at 5:30 PM CST 11/14/07)