Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wal-Mart sued over contraception

Or rather, not carrying emergency contraception pills in it's pharmacies in Massachusetts. The Yahoo news article quotes:

The plaintiffs argued that state policy requires pharmacies to provide all "commonly prescribed medicines."
As the article goes on to note, this will be a battle over the phrase "commonly prescribed medicines". Wal-Mart will claim that EC is not "commonly prescribed". I suspect that the fact that it's call "emergency" contraception will be Wal-Mart's "proof" that it's not "commonly" prescribed. Then again, how can something be "commonly prescribed" if it's not available? Wouldn't doctors just stop prescribing it in the first place?

My take on this whole issue: people who decide that to become pharmacists should expect to prescribe everything. States have a constitutional right to set laws that require pharmacists to do that. In states that do no have those laws in place, then companies that employ pharmacists should be allowed to employ pharmacists that reflect their company policies. If a pharmacist doesn't like the company policy, then s/he shouldn't be allowed to sue the company. Rather, s/he should go find a job with a company/pharmacy that reflects hers/his values. If no such company exists, then s/he should get together with like minded pharmacists and form a competing business.

Do I think it's horrible to not offer these items to people? Sure, I do. No doubt about it. If I were running a pharmacy, I'd require all of my employees to dispense whatever a doctor prescribes unless it conflicts with current prescriptions. I think women have a right to their own bodies and the state has no right making that decision for them. I also believe that my business would compete against the no EC businesses and run them out of town. But to allow a pharmacist to thwart the wishes of the business owner over an issue of alleged free speech is idiotic. Sure, you've got free speech, but you don't have the right to employment everywhere. If I'm in the retail business and I tell my customers that my employer's views stink or refuse to do something the employer requires of me, then how long do you think I'll remain employed by that person/company?

I applaud the women for pursuing their legal recourse. I'm not confident that they will win the battle, but they should pursue it. It appears as if state law, in this case, may be on their side, though, and it's up to a court to determine whether or not that's the case. If not, then they should push their state legislature to amend the law in order to clarify it. That's the appropriate route for this cause.


Scott said...

I actually think it is a good and necessary lawsuit. We're not talking about pulling certain games or magazines for 'moral' reasons, be they sincere or marketing ploys.

Making the stocking of a pharmacy a purely political or business decision in lieu of health care needs is a dangerous precedent. If they are not comfortable with all the services a pharmacy provides, walmart is the one who should either adjust or give up the pharmacy business.

To allow walmart to set health care restrictions really does set a dangerous precedent. In the future it is likely some emergency treatment based on stem cell research and production will be available for nerve damage. Probably even more time sensitive than birth control.

A pharmacy serves a critical social service, and to allow them to dictate unwanted births (or paralysis) out of some dysfunctional puritan stance is beyond the pale. Especially when you consider their business model is to destory local businesses. The competition model does not work in isolated communities where the only remaining pharmacy is at the walmart.

Admittedly, I believe people should have the choice with regards to reproduction. Even if they stopped carrying things like ritalin and botox which I believe are abused much, much more often than not I would still say, "Shame on walmart."

B.D. said...

Scott, you raise some important points that I hadn't considered. Having worked in a pharmacy, I know that most of the people I worked with were not interested in imposing their belief system on their customers. It would be beyond the pale for any of them to consider denying a customer a prescription. They were genuinely caring people.

Your point about competition is well taken. It's my main sticking point with the argument I was making. I'd love to see governments step in and pass clear legislation on this issue - even clearer than the state of Massachusetts. I don't think companies should have the right to impede medical treatment that is legal in this country. I don't think individual people should do that either. Regulation is to be handled at the national and state levels - those decisions stand.

However, unfortunately, some states seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Laws to back pharmacists rights to deny medication are being backed by lobbyists of that profession. My comments come from frustration with these efforts. When does an employee have the right to deny services offered by the employer? It's ludicrous. If that's the case, I'm gonna go get me a job at Outback and refuse to serve steak to everyone who orders it!

I think that you may be on to something for a legal tactic. It should work in any state. Allowing a pharmacy or a pharmacist to make these medical decisions is A) thwarting the regulatory powers of government to make these treatments legal and available and B) by doing so they are practicing medicine without a license and conflicting with the doctor's advice on treatment that is not harmful for whom the prescription is written.