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Crisis of Conscience: Pharmacist Refusal to Provide Health Care Services on Moral Grounds


Advances in technology have resulted in medical procedures and practices that were unthought-of in previous generations. Embryonic stem cell research, abortifacients, birth control, and artificial insemination are just a few examples of these technological advances. While many individuals readily embrace such medical advances, others find them morally objectionable. A contentious national debate is now occurring over whether employee pharmacists have the right to refuse to fill legal prescriptions for emergency contraception because of conscientious objections. In the United States, existing public policy is somewhat muddled in both protecting and encroaching on the employee pharmacist’s right of refusal. This article discusses the legal and ethical nature of that controversy, as well as the clash of interests, rights and responsibilities between employers, employee pharmacists and customers from a U.S. perspective.

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Correspondence to Eileen P. Kelly.

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Kelly, E.P., Ellis, A.D. & Rosenthal, S.P.S. Crisis of Conscience: Pharmacist Refusal to Provide Health Care Services on Moral Grounds. Employ Respons Rights J 23, 37–54 (2011).

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Key words

  • workplace accommodation
  • discrimination
  • religious expression
  • emergency contraception