Religious Beliefs and Professional Ethics

Discussion
Mar 01, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Neil Noesen, a pharmacist from St. Paul, Minn. has strong religious convictions and that put him in a court of law in front of a judge.

Mr. Noesen, who was employed by a placement agency working as a temporary pharmacist, found himself in court after refusing in July 2002 to fill a prescription for birth control pills for Amanda Phiede, then a University of Wisconsin-Stout student.

The pharmacist, a devout Roman Catholic, who believes filling a prescription for birth control pills is sinful, had made his views known to his employer before accepting the job as a replacement in a Kmart store. The placement agency had not informed Kmart of Mr. Noesen’s religious objections.

When Ms. Phiede brought her prescription to the store, Mr. Noesen inquired if they were for birth control purposes. He refused to fill the prescription after being told they were.

Ms. Phiede then went to a nearby Wal-Mart to have the prescription filled, but Mr. Noesen refused to transfer it when that store’s pharmacist called.

After hearing testimony in the case, Administrative Law Judge Colleen Baird recommended that Mr. Noesen be reprimanded by the state’s Pharmacy Examining Board for his actions and ordered him to attend ethics classes and pay for the costs of the court’s proceedings.

Mr. Noesen’s attorney, Krystal Williams-Oby, said the judge exceeded her authority since Wisconsin does not address this issue in state law. The state’s Pharmacy Examining Board also does not have rules establishing proper procedure in such instances, said the lawyer.

Judge Baird said Mr. Noesen would be required to notify any pharmacy where he may work in the future about what practices he will not perform as a matter of conscience to ensure “a patient’s access to medication is not impeded” by his beliefs.

Moderator’s Comment: Should a pharmacist be required to fill a prescription even if it is against his/her religious beliefs?

While in a perfect world we agree a pharmacist shouldn’t be required to fill a prescription for a medication against her/his religious beliefs, this is
one of those slippery slope issues. What if this were to happen in a rural area where the next available pharmacist was many miles away? What if pharmacists or other retail workers
objected on religious grounds to sell another product? Many religions prohibit the drinking of alcohol. Should a Buddhist or Baptist clerk be allowed to refuse to sell beer to
an adult because their religious beliefs or a member of the clergy tells them they shouldn’t?

George Anderson – Moderator

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17 Comments on "Religious Beliefs and Professional Ethics"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
16 years 8 days ago

The fault does seem to be more with the employer than the employee for not advising the store where the pharmacist was placed. Having said that, if the guy finds it difficult to perform his job without compromising his ethics, he should really find another job.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
16 years 8 days ago

It sounds like the biggest problem that occurred in this case was that Kmart didn’t get the warning that he would refuse to fill prescriptions based on religious beliefs. A pharmacy would have to be really desperate to knowingly allow someone like this to work for them. The placement agency that failed to inform Kmart should be on trial instead. Mr. Noesen stated right up front what he would do.

Leonard Edloe
Guest
Leonard Edloe
16 years 8 days ago

I am a pharmacist and the pastor of a church. I own three pharmacies. I allow each pharmacist, and I feel all owners should do the same, to practice pharmacy based on their ethical, professional and religious beliefs. There are pharmaceuticals in the pharmacies I own that I do not dispense for religious reasons because the pharmacists employed by me have ethical or religious reasons for not dispensing the pharmaceuticals. The pharmacists and I are always in discussion on religious, ethical and professional reasons for not dispensing a drug.

Sadly, we are a country that believes that drugs are the salvation for all of our problems and we should be able to get what we want when we want it. I would rather be the pharmacist who stands for something rather than falling for anything. All of us sometime need to hear no, especially when it comes to our health.

Carmen Liggett
Guest
Carmen Liggett
16 years 8 days ago
Some of the younger folks might recall seeing this in a movie; but us older ones might actually remember a similar scenario. A doctor writes a prescription; hands it to the patient; the patient goes to the corner store or neighborhood druggist; the prescription is filled. You might also remember the name of the store or of the proprietor. For me, it was Crawford’s Drug Store. He either had the item, was out of the item, or chose not to sell the item. I don’t ever recall hearing a debate about whether he would sell an item he stocked. He was in business to serve his customers with the items he chose to sell; and to make money. If an employee wants to take Mr. Crawford’s money for working, then he better sell the products he stocks. If you can’t or won’t sell the items he stocks, seek employment elsewhere. Otherwise, neither Mr. Crawford nor you will be making any money. If you want religious freedom, don’t dictate some else’s personal and legal behavior. You… Read more »
Peter Fader
Guest
16 years 8 days ago

The Instant Poll results say it all… This is a non-issue and doesn’t even merit discussion.

Mark Burr
Guest
16 years 8 days ago
The answer is no. No one should be forced to do anything against their religious beliefs. That is, as long as everything is known up front. In this case, there seem to be many things wrong. One, that the employment agency failed to inform the employer. Secondly, that the pharmacist failed to transfer the prescription. The employer failed to have a clear policy with regard to how these situations should and would be handled. Open and honest communication could have solved this without the court being involved at all. Sad that litigation seems to be the immediate solution to every misunderstanding and failure to communicate. In the case of alcohol, many stores provide ‘alcohol free’ lanes which solve two purposes. One is that they allow an underage cashier (say 16+ years old) to operate the lane without having to sell alcohol. Secondly, they offer those with religious or other reasons not to be in line with others purchasing alcohol. Not a bad solution at all. A win-win for all parties. From a view on the… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
16 years 8 days ago

Oh, come on. I respect this guy’s right to his beliefs, and I think the judge went way overboard on him. But at the same time, if you’re going to be a cop, ya gotta carry a gun. If you’re going to be a candy buyer, ya gotta eat candy. If you’re going to be a pharmacist, you gotta fill birth control prescriptions. If he can find work at a religious pharmacy or whatever, more power to him. Even though I disagree with him, he sounds like a very ethical, stand-up guy, especially in being up front with the employment agency from the very beginning. But this one’s a no-brainer.

Robert Immel
Guest
Robert Immel
16 years 8 days ago

I think the pharmacist was WAY out of line. You have an obligation to your employer to perform your job duties, and you need to leave your personal beliefs at home. Once I had a client that was strongly linked to the Southern Baptist convention. I was a little worried, since my views don’t align with them, but I did it anyway. The client was entirely professional, and didn’t interject his/their personal views either. And I don’t think the judge went overboard. When the pharmacist refused to transfer the Rx to Wal-Mart, THAT was overboard!

Tom Zatina
Guest
Tom Zatina
16 years 8 days ago

The quick answer is “yes”.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
16 years 8 days ago

Unless he’s working for a religious pharmacy, whose corporate philosophy is clearly expressed, then he better find himself another career. I expect that there are sufficient clinics or even religiously affiliated health centers where he may be able to do so.

Talk about slippery slopes! This one takes the cake. Suppose I decide I’m politically opposed to tall, 40-something, blonde, white men (I never thought about it before, but many of you RetailWire fellas have a similar look) and refused to comment on their website. That is certainly my right. I couldn’t expect them to pay me though.

I respect his right to have an opinion. But he needs to respect other people’s right to live their lives in a legally accepted way, or find a career that enables him to avoid anyone who doesn’t agree with him.

Jay Durepo
Guest
Jay Durepo
16 years 8 days ago

Quickly — yes. Absolutely. The pharmacist wasn’t drafted — this individual knew exactly what the job involved when signing on. If religious beliefs get in the way of fulfilling an employment obligation, leave. Work elsewhere. And read the job description more carefully next time.

Warren Thayer
Guest
16 years 8 days ago

I must have been zoning through a senior moment this morning, and thus missed the part about this pharmacist refusing to transfer the prescription to Wal-Mart. This changes my earlier comment about the judge being overboard. With a red face, I retract that statement. It was the pharmacist who was overboard, clearly, and not the judge.

J.R. Dollins
Guest
J.R. Dollins
16 years 8 days ago

Messy, messy, messy debate. We shouldn’t make him do this. To religionists, this is a matter of suppression of life. I don’t think it’s tooooo much of a stretch to relate this as analogous to conscientious objection in the military. Better be careful when telling someone that he must kill someone. I suspect that in this person’s eyes he doesn’t see birth control as extinguishing a life, but rather preventing one from living. That distinction is crystal clear to me, but may be a bit more fuzzy to a zealot.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
16 years 8 days ago

I think he deserves what he gets. How does he feel about HIV cocktails? Or methadone to treat heroin addiction? How dare he sacrifice the ethics of his profession for his own brand of holier-than-thou beliefs. And like Art, I think the placement agency shares some big time culpability for sending this nut in the first place.

Jonathan Levy
Guest
Jonathan Levy
16 years 8 days ago

The pharmacist’s right to freely practice his religion extends only to his person and not to the exclusion of anyone else’s rights.

Refusing to fill the prescription was half bad; calling the nearest pharmacy and telling them not to fill the prescription was lunacy. By doing so, he is imposing his set of ethos onto another person, and that is unacceptable behavior in a pluralistic society such as the one we enjoy.

Mike ODaniel
Guest
Mike ODaniel
16 years 8 days ago

A pharmacist has the right to refuse service to anyone… assuming he/she owns the pharmacy.

Lisa Everitt
Guest
Lisa Everitt
16 years 7 days ago

I don’t think the pharmacist in Minnesota got in trouble for being religious. He got in trouble for being self-righteous. If a customer brings in a scrip for a legal product, that’s between the customer and his or her doctor. If I ran a store and I caught an employee refusing to make a sale and actively being hostile to a customer… why is this even an issue?

If you don’t approve of birth control, don’t take any. That’s all.

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