I am a 19 year old college student and am currently majoring in Pharmacy. I hope to one day become a pharmacist but I’m curious on what to do if someone comes in to the pharmacy with a perscription for birth control. Would I as a catholic be sinning for giving them the contraceptives? Should I have one of the pharmacy assistants fill out the perscription instead? I know that I’m young and that I might end up changing my major 2 or 3 times but this was a question that I have been pondering for some time.
Forgive me if I’m incorrect, but aren’t there “other” medical uses, such as hormonal treatments, for some contraceptives? If so, would you be morally obligated to research and find out if one of these other treatments was the reason for the contraceptive? We can take this to extremes can’t we, if I sell a rope to a person, am I obligated to insure the person is not planning on hanging himself? I understand with a contraceptive it’s a little more obvious, but there are exceptions. It’s not your obligation to find if the exception is the case. I would view it as a hormonal therapy. Now if you were the doctor prescribing the treatment you would have a higher level of obligation.
If you’re just filling the script, personal opinion, assume it’s innocent unless proven otherwise.
This issue is one that I have given some thought to, considering that my parents are pharmacists. If you are a faithful Catholic, I do not think that you can in good consciense dispense contraceptives, especially considering the potential abortifacient nature of many contraceptives. Furthermore, my advice would be that you should not become a pharmacist unless you are prepared for some fights over this issue of filling prescriptions for contraceptives. You may get hassled by your employer, or you may even get hassled by the state. For example, here in the Communist People’s Republic of Illinois, our governor has decreed that pharmacists must fill prescriptions for contraceptives, and that they cannot turn away a person with a valid prescription, even if the pharmacist cannot fill the prescription in good conscience.
Now, it is true that pharmacists are in high demand, and given that fact, you might find an employer who is willing to accept the fact that you will not fill prescriptions for contraceptives (unless you live in Illinois). However, you need to be prepared for the fact that you may encounter some harrassment or persecution over this issue, either from your employer or from the state.
The pro-life news site www.lifesite.net has lots of stories in its archives about pharmacists who faced various opposition for refusing to dispense contraceptives. Just go to the site and search for “pharmacist”, or go directly to this link for the search results:
I probably sound like I’m trying to discourage you from becoming a pharmacist, but I’m not. In fact, if there were more faithful Catholic pharmacists, then the pharmacy profession would have more leverage to stop this kind of harrassment by employers and by state governments. But it’s only fair that you know what you could be getting into.
By the way, I want to clarify, regarding my post above, that it is my opinion that a faithful Catholic pharmacist should not dispense contraceptives. I know that I could not do so in good conscience if I were a pharmacist. However, I am not saying that the Catholic Church has taken an official stance on this specific issue, because I’m not exactly sure if it has or not. The moral obligation not to dispense contraceptives seems clear to me, based on principles of moral theology, but even so, you must do your own research into this issue and form your own conscience. I am not trying to tell you what you must think.
You are a position analogous to that of a person who works in a factory which produces guns. The product you are being asked to provide MAY be used for illegal and/or immoral ends.
You are not to make judgements about the end use of the product. Your job is to provide it under the terms of the contract, in the case of a pharmacist, the prescription. Failure to fill the order in a timely fashion may be construed as abuse of a position of trust. Failure to fill the prescription correctly is at least a civil offense and possibly a criminal offense.
I have a very close friend whose daughter is a (very) young teen, who has a severe hormonal imbalance, she is on “the pill” but is not sexually active. There is nothing I can think of that would make this a sin. I hope she will grow out of this condition, but if she doesn’t, when she gets married I don’t believe it would be a sin for her to continue on this treatment as long as she followed NFP, and abstains from sexual activity any time it would be remotely possible for conception. Again, I doubt very highly this could be a sin.
I assume that you understand the use of contraceptives as morally wrong. If that is the case, I would be careful about how you go about letting an assistant fill the prescription. It seems to me to be scandalous to handle the matter this way, asking someone else to do something that you would consider sinful.
I read and have heard that “the pill” can be used to treat conditions, but I wonder if there aren’t other methods that could be explored for treatment of those conditions. I just don’t know my prescription drugs that well. It is inappropriate to ask why the person is obtaining these prescriptions. It seems obvious that a majority of them are for contraceptive use and not to treat some other condition. But how can we know each case?
And as it should be. When you take a job, you know what it involves, especially when you have to go to school for it. If you morally object to any of the tasks asked of you by the career you are persuing, then you should not be pursuing that career.
As a pharmacist, you are required to dispense and combine the contents of medication according to the required prescriptive dosages. It is not your job to make moral decisions or descretionary decions, or judgements as to the uses of this medication. That issue is between the practitioner and his/her patient, your job is to warn of possible counter interactions between medications and to make sure the required dosages are filled and administered. There is no room for you to consiously object when a perscription comes in to you. You do not have to agree with the perscription, but you do have to legally fill it.
Catholicism is not the only religion out there, what if your pharmacist was a scientologist and had a “moral obligation” against psychological medication. He/she does not have the right to deny filling your anti- depressive or anti-psychotic medication due to his “religious” beliefs.
No person in that profession has the right to withold precribed medication from a patient unless there are two or more drugs that will react with each other and even then, they have to check with the practitioner first.
At no time at all should a pharmacist be asking a patient what they need the medication for or what their intentions are. that is none of your business and also illegal to ask according to HIPPA laws.
I completely agree with you that there is nothing sinful about using contraceptive medication in the way that you described. However, since the vast majority of people who use contraceptive medications do use them for purposes of contraception (and thus they use them in a way that they may act as an abortifacient), I still could not in good conscience fill contraceptive prescriptions if I were a pharmacist, unless I had an assurance from the doctor or from the patient that the situation was as you have described above.
Here’s an analogy that might be helpful: Suppose that a pregnant teenage girl stopped me on the street and asked me for directions to a local abortion provider. It’s possible that she might have a good reason for going there, such as doing sidewalk counseling with a pro-life group. But I would not give her the directions without first asking her what her intentions were, because otherwise there would be a strong possibility that I would be assisting her in aborting her baby by giving her the directions. And this is not something that I could do in good conscience.
But again, this is how I would handle it based on my own conscience and based on my study and understanding of Catholic moral theology. I’m not claiming to speak for the church on this matter, but only for myself.
I do tend to agree with you at least somewhat here, and this is one major reason why I am not a pharmacist.
I disagree with you here though. A person’s job description does not dispense them from the obligation to live out their faith. Being a good Christian and doing God’s will comes first, even if it conflicts with your job description, or even if it conflicts with the laws of your state or country. Let me use an example, to see if you might feel differently about this in a different set of circumstances. I know that this is far-fetched, but suppose that your state legalized “street drugs” such as heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, etc., as long as the person has a valid prescription. Further suppose that a few shady doctors in your state have started writing prescriptions for these drugs for people who clearly are addicts and who have no medical need for these drugs. Now suppose that you are a pharmacist, and someone who has all the tell-tale signs of meth addiction brings in a prescription for methamphetamine. Would you fill it? I would hope that you wouldn’t, or that you would at least try to get some assurance from the doctor first that there is some legitimate need for this drug.
You may think that this example is far-fetched, but I’m just trying to make the point that there are extreme examples where a pharmacist should not just ignore what is plainly going on in front of him, and fill a prescription as if he is a mindless, amoral automaton. And in my opinion, as someone who is strongly and passionately pro-life, prescriptions for contraceptives which can also act as abortifacients are one of these extreme examples.
Your point is well taken, but if I had a prescription that a Scientologist pharmacist refused to fill, then I would just take it elsewhere. I do not see why I should presume to have a right to force any pharmacist anywhere to fill any prescription. There are plenty of other pharmacies that I could go to.
Actually I understand where you are coming from, however this still goes back to the first statement that I made. If you know that this is a problem for you morally and you trully feel that this will prevent you from preforming the duties that the job requires, then this is not the career for you (I am speaking in the general you, not you personally). Legally, you are required to dispense the medication. If you refuse you could be sued or the company could be sued, which would result in your termination from that possition. Likewise, pharmacies are not interested in your “personal view” of the medication dispensed. They hired you for a specific job and you will perform it, or you will be fired, end of story. Again, if you accept the job, then you accept the rules of the job. The job says dispense it, if there is a question as to the counter actions of more than one drug or a question regarding the dosage of the drug, verify with the practitioner that this is correct.
If you do not perform the required duty of the job, you should be fired and again maybe should look for a less morally conflicting career.
In regards to your example, nothing changes. If it is legal and it is perscribed, you of course can verify with the practitioner that the prescription is valid, but you certainly cannot question as to why the practitioner perscribed the drug. Once verified, it is your duty to dispense the perscribed drug. to do otherwise is going against the terms of your employment. There is not difference.
I also understand the assumption you are making as to the purpose of the drug, however, you are not in that person’s confidence, you are not their practitioner and you have no idea what or why they are taking that medication for. Therefore, you cannot make a judgement regarding their intentions and since that is the case, you do not have full knowledge and intent to violate the teachings of the church and furthermore are not placing yourself in a mortal sin.
I don’t think that the example is far fetched at all seeing as they have been trying to legalize pot for some time, and in some states succeded. It’s not that far fetched an idea, however it is irrelevant. If it is legal to disppense the drugs, the Practitioner and the Patient are the ones that are culpable, not the Pharmacist.
I am in no way condoning the mindless automation of Pharmacists, however, the pharmacist has no right and certainly not a legal right to question the patient or the practitioner as to the purpose of this medication, he/she only has the responsibility and duty to question the validity of the actual prescription.
I did have a response for this that was so elequently stated, but deleted by accident…GRRRR… I will try to recreate it:
What if it’s not that simple. Let’s continue the example further using me as the patient who has an anti-psychotic and anti-drpression medicine to fill. I have already been delayed three days in getting this perscription which prevents me from harming myself or anyone else.
You are the Pharmacist who truly and honestly believes that psychological medication is wrong and will refuse to fill the perscription.
you tell me that I am sinning and that I don’t need it and refuse to distribute the medication to me.
In light of this, I go to another pharmacy, and am greeted with the same answer. I go to a third, pharmacy and, again, am refused.
Hrrrmmm…can you see how frustrating an unhelpful this is? Do you know me or my situation? Can you forsee what can happen if I do not get my medication? Do you know if I will go home and loose it and hurt myself or someone else, someone on the way home, maybe?
I agree that this is also far fetched, however I am trying to proove a point. You are not in my confidence, you do not know why or for what reason I need this medication. Likewise, you as the pharmacist do not have a right to ask me or my practitioner the reason. You do not have the right to ask anything other than validation of the perscriptive quantity and the validity of the perscription. It is not up to you to detemine, my level of mental illness or it’s treatment. You dispense drugs and that is all.
Do your job, or don’t take the job. Period.
I really can’t tell what the official stand of the Church is but your question raises a dilemma. Many, if not most drugs, can be used for more than one condition and bad as abortion it’s probably not the only moral issue you’re going to face. If possible talk to a pharmacist who’s also a practicing Catholic and find out what issues he/she has had to deal with, then talk to a priest or other adviser who can help you decide how those situations should be faced (or whether you want to go down this road at all).
Personally, I think we need more good Catholics in these professions, but if current law and the ethics of the profession clash with our personal beliefs, it’s probably better to stay away. The question then becomes how can we be an influence for positive change from the outside? I’m not sure there are any easy answers…
If, after becoming fully informed of what you’re likely to face, you want to give it a try, I say “God go with you”.
The actual issue with the pill, as I understand it, is that it can cause an abortion before the woman even knows that she is pregnant. If the pill fails to prevent ovulation, it can instead prevent implantation of the embryo after fertilization. This is essentially a very, very early abortion.
For more information on exactly how the pill can act as an abortifacient, please see the following articles:
But would it be morally acceptable to dispense this medication as long as you warned about the potential abortifacient effect mentioned above? For me, I still could not dispense it in good conscience, partly because of the abortifacient properties, and also partly because of the contraceptive properties – though the abortifacient properties are definitely my primary concern. Also, I would point out that you may run into problems with your employer if you start mentioning to patients that the pill can act as an abortifacient (even though it’s evidently true, and even if you still filled the prescriptions).
Becoming a pharmacist presents some serious moral challenges for a faithful Catholic, or really for anyone who is truly pro-life, in my opinion. That’s very unfortunate, but it seems to me that that’s the current situation in our society.