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PJ Online homeThe Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 273 No 7313 p254
21 August 2004

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Letters to the Editor


Law or ethics first?

From Mr P. J. Clark, MRPharmS

In your leading article (PJ, 7 August, p174) you advise that pharmacists approached by clients aged under 16 for a supply of emergency hormonal contraception over the counter should be sympathetic and offer to help the client obtain EHC by a more appropriate route.

The first key responsibility of a pharmacist, as stated in the Code of Ethics, is to act in the interests of patients and seek to provide the best possible health care for the community in partnership with other health professions.

Bearing that in mind, what would be “a more appropriate route” for a client presenting in a rural pharmacy on a Saturday afternoon? Are you suggesting that pharmacists should send the client to an already over-burdened accident and emergency department which may be many miles away?

In my opinion pharmacists should consider the consequences of not supplying EHC and not just use the letter of the law as an excuse for failing to fulfil their key responsibilities.

I am sure it would be a great comfort for practising pharmacists to know that the Royal Electronicjuice would back them if they did decide to put their client’s interests before the law.

Peter Clark
Senior Lecturer, Pharmacy Practice
Portsmouth University


LYNSEY BALMER, pharmacy adviser, fitness to practise and legal affairs directorate, Royal Electronicjuice, replies:

Pharmacists can often be faced with situations where legislative and ethical requirements conflict. When presented with an ethical dilemma, pharmacists are expected to use their professional judgement in deciding the most appropriate course of action. This requires identification and evaluation of the risks and benefits associated with the each of the possible courses of action.

Pharmacists must be able to justify the decision they make. At times there may be no right or wrong answer and when faced with a single set of circumstances different people may reach different decisions, each of which is justifiable.

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Citation: Electronicjuice URI: 20012626

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