Delaware News: Considering Moral and Ethical Objections

Topics: Conscience clause

Published in the March 2006 Delaware State Board of Pharmacy Newsletter

There have been questions concerning the professional obligations of licensed pharmacists to provide services they may religiously, morally, or ethically oppose. There is no Delaware Pharmacy Act or Regulation requiring a pharmacist to dispense every lawful prescription presented in a pharmacy. Similar to other health care professionals, pharmacists have the right to freely choose whether or not to participate in activities they find religiously, morally, or ethically objectionable. However, it is the Delaware Board of Pharmacy’s position that pharmacists have a professional responsibility to ensure that their patients obtain properly ordered and therapeutically appropriate medications in a timely manner with appropriate counseling from a pharmacist. The basis of this position is the licensee’s responsibility to practice competently. When a pharmacist recognizes that their religious, moral, or ethical belief will result in the refusal to fill a prescription that is otherwise available in a pharmacy, the pharmacist has a professional obligation to take the appropriate steps to avoid the possibility of abandoning or neglecting a patient. Delaware pharmacists do not have a right to interfere with a patient’s right to receive lawfully and appropriately prescribed drug therapy. This rationale follows which was taken by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) in the 1998 “Pharmacist Conscience Clause.” “APhA recognizes the individual pharmacist’s right to exercise conscientious refusal and supports the establishment of systems to ensure patient’s access to legally prescribed therapy without compromising the pharmacist’s right of conscientious refusal.” The Board urges pharmacies to adopt policies and procedures that address the issue of pharmacists’ religious, moral, ethical and professional rights and responsibilities, and to discuss these with each pharmacist and all pharmacy staff. The Board believes that pharmacy policies and procedures should respect a pharmacist’s right of conscientious refusal without interfering with the patient’s right to receive timely, appropriate, and lawful drug therapy.