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Ethical Dilemmas in Pharmacy

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At the center of ethical dilemmas that pharmacists face are concerns about potentially dangerous medications and the use of some drugs in ways that they find morally objectionable. Such dilemmas can be extremely difficult to resolve.

Religious Convictions

One highly reported ethical dilemma that pharmacists face is when they're asked to fill a prescription that violates their religious beliefs. For example, a prescription for a morning-after pill -- a pill that prevents an egg from attaching to the uterine wall -- might go against a pharmacist's religious convictions. In those cases, a pharmacist might choose not to fill the prescription or to have another pharmacist fill the prescription. However, he also faces the possibility of being fired.

Concerns About a Medicine

Some states, such as Ohio, give pharmacists a lot of freedom to decide what type of prescriptions they will fill. A pharmacist might face an ethical dilemma if he feels that a prescribed medication is dangerous. This has happened in the case of diet pills that were later taken off the market, for example. In this situation, the pharmacist might choose not to fill the prescription, but he could face fines or -- if his employer disagrees with his decision -- disciplinary action.

Two Ethical Policies at Odds

Nonmaleficence , the idea of doing no harm, might sometimes be at odds with beneficence, the idea doing good for a patient. This can come into play in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is allowed. If a medication may be used toward that end, a pharmacist might find herself in a bind. Her desire to do good by helping to end the patient's suffering can clash with her vow to do no harm.

The Law and Ethics

Sometimes pharmacists run into ethical dilemmas due to red tape from the law. Alabama, for example, doesn't have a collaborative law that allows pharmacists to work with physicians to create a medication therapy management plan, which is paid for by insurance providers or Medicare. This means that when a patient has been prescribed many prescriptions and has no idea how they interact, a pharmacist must balance his desire to help the patient with the need to toe the line legally. Without a collaborative law in place, he must be very careful in making sure the advice he gives doesn't overstep legal boundaries while still helping the patient in a way that he sees as ethical.


With features published by media such as Business Week and Fox News, Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an accomplished writer with a law degree and a master's in science and technology journalism. She has written for law firms, public relations and marketing agencies, science and technology websites, and business magazines.

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