HotAIR - COMING EVENTS -- A New Anti-Quackery Tool?


A New Anti-Quackery Tool?

Legal doings for pharmacists who would dispense with dispensing sham medicines

by Alice Shirell Kaswell, AIR staff

Conscience is a two-edged sword. Efforts intended for a very different purpose could turn out to be potent tools against those who promote -- and those who demand -- the sale of worthless, quack medical remedies.

Here's the story.

Currently: The Danger of Refusing to Sell Fake Medicines

In the United States, many pharmacists now dispense "medicines" they believe to be worthless. They feel compelled to do this because (a) some customers demand to buy them and (b) many pharmacy owners insist on taking the money those customers offer up.

In theory, these pharmacists could be fired for refusing to sell what they believe to be ineffective, and in some cases fraudulent, nostrums. This puts the pharmacists in a terrible spot -- wanting to keep their customers from buying junk, but fearing retribution from their employers.

Soon, Perhaps: Conscience-Protection Laws for Pharmacists

There is possibly good news for these consciencious pharmacists.

Upcoming court cases and legal proposals could soon make it safe for them to refuse to dispense quack "medicines." In several states, lawmakers are trying to enact new laws that

"would provide job protection to pharmacists if they refuse to dispense medication on moral grounds."

These are based on a so-called "conscience clause for pharmacists" that was passed by the delegates of the American Pharmaceutical Association. Some state associations have adopted similar codes, typically saying that they:

"support a pharmacist's right to conscientious objection to morally, religiously, or ethically troubling therapies."

Soon those sentiments could be codified as law in several states. (One or more states already have laws that could be interpreted as having similar effects.) The reason for having such codes and laws is that, in the words here of the Ohio Pharmacists Association,:

"Many therapies (e.g., abortifacients, capital punishment, cloning, stem cell and gene therapy, physician-assisted suicide, temination of pregnancy, and termination of life support) may be morally , religiously, or ethically objectionable to a pharmacist."

Irony: Not What the Lawmakers Intend

The publicity so far has mostly been about one particular issue, but as you'll see in a moment, that could change.

Prominent in the news right now is the case of Karen Brauer, an Ohio pharmacist who was fired for refusing to sell "morning-after" pills to women customers who urgently wished to buy them. For a news report about that case see <>. And for a description by Karen Brauer herself, see <>. The case is slated to hit the court system in May, 2001.

The Brauer case, though, has implications of a very different sort -- implications, that could delight well-educated pharmacists no matter what their feelings about morning-after pills.

Few, if any, lawmakers may realize it, but these prospective laws could protect pharmacists who refuse to dispense products -- homeopathic liquids, "therapeutic magnets," or "healing crystals," to give three examples -- that they may consider to be worthless and/or fraudulent.

Until now many pharmacists have felt compelled to dispense whatever products their employers were willing to offer, no matter how loopy and/or wasteful certain of those products may have seemed to the pharmacists.

What's a Pharmacist to Do?

Pharmacists in search of guidance as to which kinds of products may be worth some consciencious consideration can consult many sources. Prominent among them is the Quackwatch web site (

An Enlightening Public Spectacle

It will be interesting to see who takes a stand against these new laws, and why. It could be a very odd mix of persons, and an even odder mix of reasons, both stated and unstated.

This is a HotAIR exclusive feature. For a complete list of the others, see What's New.