Pharmacies, pharmacists, and conscientious objection

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 2006 Sep;16(3):225-50. doi: 10.1353/ken.2006.0020.


This paper examines the obligations of pharmacy licensees and pharmacists in the context of conscience-based objections to filling lawful prescriptions for certain types of medications--e.g., standard and emergency contraceptives. Claims of conscience are analyzed as means to preserve or maintain an individual's moral integrity. It is argued that pharmacy licensees have an obligation to dispense prescription medications that satisfy the health needs of the populations they serve, and this obligation can override claims of conscience. Although efforts should be made to respect the moral integrity of pharmacists and accommodate their claims of conscience, it is argued that the health needs of patients and the professional obligations of pharmacists limit the extent to which pharmacists may refuse to assist patients who have lawful prescriptions for medically indicated drugs.

MeSH terms

  • Codes of Ethics
  • Conscience*
  • Contraceptives, Postcoital* / supply & distribution
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Employment / ethics
  • Ethics, Professional
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pharmacies / ethics*
  • Pharmacies / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Pharmacists / ethics*
  • Refusal to Treat / ethics*
  • Social Responsibility
  • United States


  • Contraceptives, Postcoital