Published on: March 7, 2006
Not surprisingly, we got a number of emails in response to yesterday’s story about Wal-Mart saying that it will begin carrying “Plan B” morning-after contraceptive pills in all its pharmacies, though it said that pharmacists who feel uncomfortable with dispensing the morning-after pill could refer consumers either to another pharmacist or another pharmacy.
The move was in response to moves by states such as Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut to force Wal-Mart to carry the legal pills in their state-licensed pharmacies. "We expect more states to require us to sell emergency contraceptives in the months ahead," Ron Chomiuk, vice president of pharmacy for Wal-Mart, said. "Because of this, and the fact that this is an FDA-approved product, we feel it is difficult to justify being the country's only major pharmacy chain not selling it.”
The company was never specific about its reticence about carrying the pills, only saying that it was for business reasons.
Our comment: We find this story troubling on several levels…
Exactly why won’t Wal-Mart be specific about its decision not to carry the morning-after pills? We would assume that it was a decision that can be traced back to a concern that it would offend the members of its constituency that are against abortion or even contraception, but why wouldn’t the company come right out and say it was making what it viewed as a moral decision? And was there a major outcry against the morning-after pill that somehow we missed, and to which Wal-Mart felt obliged to respond – even though it didn’t want to be out front with the rationale behind its response?
And should consumers be comfortable with the notion that individual pharmacists now can make decisions about what they will or will not dispense?
Our reaction to this story has been that while companies certainly have the right to make decisions about what they will and will not carry, maybe they shouldn’t have quite so much latitude when it comes to legally prescribed products sold out of state-licensed facilities such as pharmacies.
We’ll stand by that. But we are mostly troubled by the fact that this whole scenario has too much back-story about which people are not talking.
Now, we have to admit that we are a little leery about this ongoing conversation…mostly because we’re getting into some fairly controversial territory. But we’re going to facilitate it, if only because if you’re going to talk, you might as well talk about important stuff.
user wrote:If I was a pharmacist who didn't want to sell this pill, I'd see that my pharmacy was out-of-stock on it all the time.
Now, what would be wrong with that......
One pill out of hundreds, maybe thousands, that "we" couldn't keep in stock.
user wrote:I am troubled only by the fact that government of any kind is forcing a for-profit company to make decisions based on something other than profitability and individual business strategy. I’m waiting now for local governments seeking for simpler means to acquire real estate besides eminent domain to institute constrictive laws on mom-and-pops stores that, since they may not be based on the business’s profitability, could drive them out completely.
Still another MNB
user wrote:To the heart of the matter for me…………… If I was a pharmacist, I would not fill this script because I believe it would be the (potential) murder of an unborn. Having said that, I guess I would rather get fired than go back on my principles. Don’t you feel that Pharmacists with my view should be protected against a mandate to dispense this pill? After all, performing an abortion is a choice for Physicians is it not?
And, another MNB
user wrote:You suggest that pharmacists shouldn't have the right to refuse to dispense the Plan B medication, but you don't really address why many people find it morally objectionable. Please allow this explanation: Since this medication is often used to prevent a post-conception being from implanting in the uterine wall, if life begins at conception, then Plan B involves the destruction of innocent human being.
If a government or a company wants to get objecting pharmacists to dispense Plan B, they can do one of two things. One, they could muster up whatever scientific evidence they can find that demonstrates that life begins at some point later than conception (good luck), and attempt to persuade them that there's no risk of killing an innocent. Or two, they can simply refuse to engage in rational debate on the subject and impose their values on the pharmacists under the threat of law and/or termination. You appear to have put yourself in line with the second approach.
Do you really think it's a good idea that pharmacists should be threatened with being fired or imprisoned if they don't dispense a product that they expect will kill an innocent person?
And since it's relevant to the ethics of the discussion, may I ask you: when do you think human life begins? If you are not sure, why have you set yourself in opposition to those pharmacists who want to be as protective as they can of life (which is presumably one of the reasons they became pharmacists in the first place)?
First of all, we hope that we have suggested that we think this is a black and white issue. Actually, we think it is anything but.
We actually are sympathetic to Wal-Mart’s view….if indeed its view is that the morning-after bill is tantamount to abortion, and therefore it does not wish to dispense such a medication. And we are sympathetic to pharmacists who may feel the same way.
But Wal-Mart hasn’t said that. It almost seems that Wal-Mart wants to have it both ways – it wants to hold a position without making a statement…and we’re not sure that’s fair.
A basic question needs to be asked. Does a consumer have a reasonable right to expect that all legal medications will be carried by a state-licensed facility? (We will be harsh about one response – spare us the nonsense about how companies ought to say, “gosh, we’re out of stock…” It is a silly and irresponsible approach to a serious debate in which both sides have a legitimate argument.)
The problem is that this is a dangerous precedent. What happens if a pharmacist is a devout Catholic who believes that all contraception is a sin? Should that pharmacist be permitted to not dispense birth control pills?
Where does the line get drawn?
What happens in small communities where Wal-Mart may have the only pharmacy in town? (Probably an unlikely scenario, but it could happen.) Should the rules be different there?
We concede that this is a complicated argument, which is why we tend to think that what is legal ought to be where the line is drawn.
As for our position on when life begins, it is irrelevant to this discussion. We’re just trying to figure out the best way to navigate the rough shoals that run between commerce and culture.