The wider issue of withheld medical treatment

I am aware that my posts of late have been getting increasingly political in nature, something I didn’t want to do when I started this blog, and I promise to get back to talking about WPF, Vista and how I’m using it soon, but I felt I had to post on this topic.

Whilst traveling into London on Saturday the guy across the isle was reading The Telegraph, and I noticed the headline Mother is denied Pill by Muslim pharmacist.  After reading something that Lindsay and Amanda had posted about on a similar subject, I looked it up.

A Muslim chemist repeatedly refused a mother the "morning after" pill because of his religious beliefs.

Jo-Ann Thomas, a school crossing patrolwoman with two children, was told that even though the item was in stock she should go to her doctor for her supplies.

When she was denied the pill at a Lloyds Pharmacy near her home in Thurcroft, Rotherham, she asked why and says she was told the pharmacist was a "deeply religious Muslim".

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society‘s Head of Professional Ethics, Lyndsey Balmer, replied with

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Code of Ethics and Standards requires that pharmacists act in the interests of patients and the public.

However, as with other regulators of healthcare professionals, the RPSGB recognises that a pharmacist’s beliefs or personal convictions might prevent him or her from providing a particular professional service (for example the supply of emergency hormonal contraception). Although the code does not compel a pharmacist to provide a service that is contrary to his or her religious or moral beliefs, it does require pharmacists to respect patients’ decisions and beliefs, and to advise them of other ways in which they can access the required service to ensure that their care is not unduly compromised.

If a pharmacist’s beliefs or personal convictions prevent him or her providing a particular service, the pharmacist must not criticise the patient, and either the pharmacist or a member of staff must advise the patient of an alternative source for the service requested.

Now I suppose you can argue that the pharmacist did fulfill this obligation by recommending she see her doctor, but given the crucial time requirements of EC, and the usual time it takes to get an appointment to see a GP, you have to ask yourself, at what point do personal beliefs and convictions actually become harmful to others?  Quite frankly I think it is reprehensible that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and, if the above quote is to believed, other healthcare regulators allow those that they regulate to abscond from duty based on belief, when that duty is the provision of care to society.

Amanda puts it neatly when comparing this scenario to a diabetic using insulin.

In terms of actual use, hormonal contraception reminds me most of insulin. Insulin was invented to deal with an inborn medical issue that could, in theory, be controlled through abstemious behavior [but] if you suggested to a diabetic that eating a sandwich was wildly irresponsible, as if they aren’t demonstrating responsibility by measuring their blood sugar and dosing themselves with insulin, you’d rightly be called an asshole. And probably crazy.

I can’t even imagine what would happen if a sourpuss pharmacist refused to give out insulin prescriptions under the theory that he thinks that the people getting them just want to eat too much.

Although she’s coming at this from a different angle it’s still a valid point for my argument – that no healthcare worker should be protected because of belief (or any other reason) when they refuse to do their job – but why limit this to a discussion about woman’s and sexual health care?  Shouldn’t everyone be entitled to expect their health care professionals to deliver no matter what?

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One Response to “The wider issue of withheld medical treatment”

  1. Karl Says:

    Interesting post, and I particularly like Amanda\’s comparison drawn between the prescribing of the pill and insulin – very insightful.  I wonder how many pharmacists are Jehova\’s witnesses?
    I think we need to clarify exactly what a pharmacist (or doctor) is actually supposed to be doing.  Are they supposed to be doing what they genuinely believe is in the best interests of the patient?  If so, then surely a muslim pharmacist is entitled to with-hold medicine that they believe ultimately won\’t do them any favours, especially if they have to explain all their dirty little exploits to Allah later.  Perhaps, pharmacists should just dispense whatever we ask for – "I\’ll have a litre of morphine please because my leg is killing me and I plan to gnaw it off with my teeth later tonight."  If so, then maybe pharmacists can\’t be held accountable for what they sell, providing it is exactly what was requested.

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