Practice Alerts and Guidelines

Policy Guideline Concerning Matters of Conscience

To: Supervising Pharmacists

From: Lawrence H. Mokhiber

Date: November 18, 2005

Re: Policy Guideline Concerning Matters of Conscience

Questions have been raised relating to issues surrounding the professional obligations of licensed pharmacists with respect to providing services to which they may be religiously, morally or ethically opposed. The Board of Pharmacy has been assisting the Department on how best to address these concerns and provide clarification. Please note that this guidance memorandum is not intended to supercede relevant laws, rules or regulations. Further, we recognize that professional judgment is often based upon specific sets of facts that require a particular analysis and cannot be answered with general guidance. Nonetheless, it is important that we share information that forms the basis of our general analysis.

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. This is true because licensees have a responsibility to practice competently and to protect against abandoning or neglecting a patient in need of immediate care without making adequate arrangements. Additionally, it is professional misconduct to be found to have refused to provide professional services based upon a person’s race, creed, color or national origin. When a pharmacist recognizes that his/her religious, moral or ethical belief, or any other factor, will result in the refusal to fill a prescription that is otherwise available in a pharmacy, the pharmacist has a professional obligation to take appropriate steps to avoid the possibility of abandoning or neglecting a patient. When a pharmacist begins practice in a professional setting, he/she should take steps that may include notification to the owner and supervising pharmacist if his/her beliefs will limit the drug products he/she will dispense.

If a pharmacy employs a pharmacist that has identified circumstances that would preclude the filling of prescriptions for particular products, the owner and supervising pharmacist should devise, within reason, accommodations that will respect the pharmacist’s choice while assuring delivery of services to patients in need. This may include special attention to scheduling of professionals to allow a pharmacist who has a religious, moral or ethical objection to practice simultaneously with another pharmacist who will fill the requested prescription, entering into collaborative arrangements with pharmacies in close proximity, or other accommodations designed to protect the public.

Where a pharmacist has a religious, moral or ethical objection to filling a prescription, he/she should not interfere with another pharmacist responding to the professional needs of a patient. The pharmacist should refrain from engaging in non-health related judgmental or confrontational activities with the patient. Please remember that verbal abuse or other harassment of a patient will constitute unprofessional conduct for professionals under existing rules and regulations.

We hope this information is helpful. If you have questions or concerns on this or any pharmacy practice matter, please feel free to contact us.

Last Updated: July 1, 2009